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Chuck Meese as the older Guthrie
Chuck Meese as the older Guthrie

Theatre review: Woody Guthrie's American Song at Flynnspace in Burlington

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Woody Guthrie's American Song is the current offering of Vermont Stage and runs at the FlynnSpace through February 4. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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If you like folk music and good musicians, you'll enjoy WOODY GUTHRIE'S AMERICAN SONG. All the songs and writings are Guthrie's, while the piece was conceived and adapted by Peter Glazer.  It's skillfully staged and directed by Mark Nash, Vermont Stage's Artistic Director.  To quote Guthrie's words from the show, "I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world . . . I am out to sing songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work."  Woody Guthrie was a collector of life, and his songs and writings paint a picture of the American working man, from the Dust Bowl through the Depression to the rise of Unionism.

Jenny C. Fulton has designed a simple and versatile set, consisting of a plank floor with a raised plank stage that slides forward to become a box car.  The three posts around the floor are boxed in wood, with pegs for hanging hats and various instruments.  Her costumes and even the shoes are also very good, and evocative of the era.  The lighting, designed by John Forbes, is excellent and contributes to the mood of the various scenes.

The cast is generally strong and their voices are appropriately non-theatrical, which suits the style of the music.  Evan Beamer is a good Young Woody, and sings very well.  Patti Casey and Ellen McQueeney are both strong actor/singers and Jan Monteagudo-Meese does a nice job as a young boy.  The two stand-outs are Brett Hughes as the middle-aged Woody and Chuck Meese as the older incarnation.  Mr. Hughes is a good actor as well as a strong interpreter of his songs, while Chuck Meese, as someone remarked, ". . . is the genuine article."

All the actors are good musicians, and there's plenty of nifty guitar, mandolin and banjo work.  Young Jan even does a turn on the harmonica and the spoons.  The actors are joined on stage by two excellent musicians - Tyler Bolles on bass and Joseph Campanella Cleary on mandolin and fiddle, who add a great deal to the musical proceedings.  The cast also has a terrific vocal blend on the group numbers, especially "Better World/Lonesome Valley".

As I mentioned earlier, Mark Nash has done a fine job of directing the piece.  By staging it in a U-shaped three-quarter-round space, he's managed to see that the view of the audience is seldom blocked.  With the able assistance of Musical Director Patti Casey, he's brought to life a piece of Americana.

I kept having moments of, "I didn't know Woody Guthrie wrote that."  If you think you don't know his music, you'll be surprised at how much of it is a part of American culture.  For me it was an enjoyable discovery.

On a scale of one to five the Vermont Stage production of WOODY GUTHRIE'S AMERICAN SONG gets four and one eighths ferry boats.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.  

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