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Theater Review: “Woody Guthrie’s American Song”

Karen Ann Daniels, Sean Yael-Cox
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

You have to love a guy whose guitar sports this message: “This machine kills fascists.”

That would be Woody Guthrie, composer of more than 3,000 songs, many of which have entered the “standards” lists. Chief among them is “This Land Is Your Land.” Guthrie  wrote about lots of thing, but he is probably best known as a singer of protest and/or peace songs.

Guthrie was about as American as they come. He was born in 1912 in Oklahoma, chased out of the Dust Bowl in 1935 to ride the rails to California, all the time listening to and writing songs of the people he met. “I borrowed my life from the works of your life,” he wrote in his book “Born To Win.”

Intrepid Theatre Company presents Peter Glazer’s 1988 “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” through June 19 at  Lamb’s Players Theatre’s Horton Plaza Theatre location. Ruff Yeager directs.

Glazer’s singfest/hootenanny of Guthrie’s life and work includes old standards like “Union Maid” and “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know Ya” as well as many less familiar tunes, performed by a fine quintet of singers, three men and two women.

The men represent stages of Guthrie’s life: Searcher (Jack French), the young Woody; Folksinger (Intrepid’s artistic director Sean Yael-Cox), the mid-life Woody, and Writer (Leonard Patton), the older, reflective Guthrie. Patton lends his powerful voice to the poignant “End Of My Line.”

Karen Ann Daniels is along to belt out some wicked blues, and Megan M. Storti does the primary vocal on the poignant, still relevant “Deportee.”

Michael McKeon is responsible for the basic set (a somewhat blurry map of Middle America, a raised platform with a few steps and a setup on stage right for Jon Lorenz’s small but mighty band of three) and the spectacular projections (that yooge dust cloud looks like it’s coming for you, there, in that seat).

The band is excellent: Sean LaPerruque on fiddle, Patrick Marion on bass and Jim Mooney on guitar and other instruments.

Jeanne Reith’s costumes are appropriate, and Christopher Renda and Matt Lescault-Wood add fine lighting and sound designs.

Woody Guthrie may have known as much about the ramblin’ life and migrant work as anyone, and has documented both in word (in his book “Bound For Glory”) and song. As he once said, “You know more about people by the songs they sing than any words they speak.”

“Woody Guthrie’s American Song” gives you a taste of the life and music of this American icon.

The details

Intrepid Theatre Company’s production of “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” plays through June 19, 2016 at the Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Avenue, downtown.

Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 437-6000, lambsplayers.org or intrepidtheatre.org