BWW Reviews: At the Stackner, 'Woody Sez:' Right Wing, Left Wing, Chicken Wing
Born in 1912, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was often better known as the hobo poet from Oklahoma, Woody Guthrie. The musician named after an American president protested against capitalism, consumerism and commercialism, which portrays a witty irony in all that he did and the music he based his songwriting on. With this as the background, The Rep's Stackner Cabaret presents the captivating revue Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, a traveling show first produced at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe by the Melting Pot Theatre.
Devised by David M. Lutken in collaboration with Director Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, the name of the show derives from a column Woody wrote in the alternative newspaper The People's Daily World. The two hour musical show features more than 35 of Guthrie's legendary songs as a man of the people who wrote for those who had no voice, who might only be heard as Woody 'sez,' "by their songs more than any words they could speak."
From Woody's childhood when he learned to sing at his mother's knee, Woody transformed into a Renaissance man perhaps because his traumatic life on the road created the necessity for survival. Artist, author, musician, philosopher, poet and songwriter enabled Woody to "keep on going on" depsite whatever happened.. In Woody's short life, he expereinced two world wars, a depression, the dust bowl decade along with the loss of a sister and a daughter and finally his battle enduring a horrific illness in Huntington's Disease to define a man known more for his often controversial music than his material success.
Actor and musician David M. Lutken embodies Woody with an uncanny resemblance to the folk musician while the audience admires Woody's actual portrait on the back set. The folksy tone, humble but politically strident demeanor, and humorous delivery perfectly portrays the numerous times Lutken has played Woody Guthrie to create a believable lpersona to make the Woody role his own.
Accompanied by David Finch, Leenya Rideout and Helen Jean Russell, the accomplished quartet gives voice in numerous memorable numbers to the 30's, 40's and 50's, where sometimes the homeless and poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised missed out on the riches after the war during the 1950's. Woody stood for the voice of the people, the ordinary working man. And whether singing for the black list, red list, Women's rights and suffrage, the right wing or left wing, AFL or CIO, Woody remained true to his inner voice believing all men deserved the same treatment and were as he 'sez;' "Everyone might just be one big soul."
The cabaret evening invites intimacy with the actors, especially when they stroll into the audience. Playing multiple instruments and interchangeable roles in dynamite peformances, the four return the audience to times of a radical social conscience through their amazing musical talent, singing classic songs that influenced generations of musicians afterwards. The production immerses the audience in these performer's music, especially Lutken, constantly entertaining while tuning the audience in to the provocative ideas Woody struggled with, the dichotomy and discrepancies in American life. Whatever one believes about Woody's politics, his music enables people of all beliefs to interconnect into that one big soul---people who become known through their war songs, work songs, dance songs and love songs.
Since the incredible music and the toe tapping melodies will fill the Stackner through the first week in March, find time to visit the Rep's free Hootenanny and discover Woody's musical version of what he might call his "chicken wings" held outside the Cabaret after Thursday performances beginning at approximately 9:30 p.m..
The hooting and hollering Stackner quartet continues to enthusiastically sings cover songs along with more Guthrie tunes, and anyone from the audience or who walks in can participate for a hour of fun. The first one featured about fifty people including Milwaukee's Molly Rhode and Chase Stoeger, where the participants can sway, swing and sing along without a care in the world. And since Woody believed music and poetry formed the heart of humanity's collective soul he proved that politics be put aside, Shakespeare inspires what Woody usually sez: "Sweet are the uses of adversity."
The Milwaukee Rep at The Stackner Cabaret presents Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie through March 9. After the performance on Thursdays, a free Hootenanny happens in the cabaret for about an hour where anyone can join the fun without any purchase of a cabaret ticket necessary. For information or tickets please call: 414.224.9490 or www.MilwaukeeRep.com