"Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie" is top-notch


By Charlie Jarrett

Posted: 05/29/2019

If you, like me, enjoy bluegrass and country music, then you are bound to be put in hillbilly heaven if you attend. The Center Repertory Company's new show, "Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie", is once again a terrific, moving, and inspirational evening of some of the most important folk and bluegrass music written by an American songwriter, Woodrow Wilson Guthrie.

Devised by and starring David M. Lutkin, this is a bona fide musical portrait of one of America's greatest traveling troubadours and focuses on the story, life, and music created by Guthrie. In this comfortable venue, the Margaret Lesher theater, you will have an opportunity to kick back and spend a couple of hours with a little heartfelt insight into the heart and soul of a man whose musical creations changed the world for many of us as you hear 40+ wonderful songs he wrote.

Woody Guthrie lived and created his music up to and through the depression in the 1930's. His lyrics tell the heartbreaking stories of the hard-working men and women from every walk of life that were destroyed by the depression and the dustbowl, which covered over 100 million acres of farmland.

His songs were created by the conditions he witnessed on a daily basis as he traveled all across the country. He has become revered by most Americans through his support of the underprivileged, his heartbreaking stories of the poor, his political activism, his hundreds of folk, family and depression songs that he blended with poignant ballads.

He has been long considered as a figurehead in the folk music movement, providing inspiration to a generation of new artists including such artists as Ramblin Jack Elliott, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash, and Bruce Springsteen.

One of his most significant and popular songs still recorded today, literally by hundreds of artists is "This Land is Your Land". Some of the wonderful songs you will hear in this production are also some of my favorites, including, "This Train", "Oklahoma Hills", "Mule Skinner Blues", "Do Re Mi", "Union Maid", "Deportee" and "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You".

There are four fantastic entertainers in this musical with the ability to play several instruments each: Darcie Deaville, David Finch, Megan Loomis and David M. Lutkin, who is the musical director.

The set is adorned with a few images of Woody Guthrie and simple movable box-like props that make this set seem comfortable and country.

The voices and the music of these extremely professional and talented performers kept the audience tapping their toes, clapping her hands and sometimes, joining in and singing some of the songs. It was such a terrific evening and we enjoyed the music so much, that after the show was over, Karen and I went down to the stage door to wait for the entertainers to exit the theater, so that I could plead to purchase one of their wonderful albums, which I did!

This delightful show will continue Wednesdays at 7:30 PM, Thursdays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, with 2:30 PM matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays now through June 23.

The cast has offered a special invitation to the general public to join in a free hootenanny, that will be held following each Sunday matinee at 4:45 PM wherein anyone can bring an instrument, sing-along or just clap to the rhythms in the music, in the informal, un-amplified jam session.

The production will continue in the Margaret Lesher Theater located in the Lesher Center for the Arts at 1601 Civic Drive in Walnut Creek. Tickets range between $36 to $79 each and can be secured by purchasing them at the Lesher Center for the Arts box office, at the Downtown Walnut Creek Library or by calling (925) 943 SHOW (7469) and please visit www.lesherartscenter.org for more events tied to this show!

Curtain Calls: The Force is with 'Woody Sez' in Walnut Creek

By Sally Hogarty

May 28, 2019

Traversing the United States as well as seminal periods in our history, Woody Guthrie told the story of people struggling to make a life across our country. With his beat-up guitar and harmonica, he put to music and words the plight of Dust Bowl refugees, deportees and workers unionizing for decent wages to name just a few.

One of the most significant figures in American folk music, Woody's songs, such as "This Land is Your Land" and "This Train is Bound for Glory," inspired several generations. Married three times and the father of eight children (including singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie), Woody also wrote children's songs. I used to love singing his "Ridin' in My Car" to my children whenever we went for a drive.

Thanks to David M. Lutken's musical portrait of Woody, new generations can receive a glimpse of this difficult man's life during difficult times. "Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie" features Lutken as Woody with Darcie Deaville, David Finch and Megan Loomis in supporting roles. The inspiring work follows Woody from his early childhood through the Depression, World War II and to his death from complications of Huntington's disease. The disease also took his mother and two of his daughters. Sales from CDs at the performance will benefit research into the disease.

Michael Butler, the artistic director of Walnut Creek's Center Repertory Company, introduced the performers as "Jedi," and I would have to agree. The Force was certainly with this multitalented quartet the night I saw the show. Moving easily from guitars to banjos to fiddles to stand-up bass, mouth harps and more (more than 20 instruments!), these consummate performers bring the best of the American spirit alive.

While all are equally impressive, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Deaville's fiery fiddling or Loomis' impressive moves on the standup bass. Not to be outdone, Finch and Lutken add fun physical moves as they play and sing their hearts out, with Lutken's melodious voice perfect as the main narrator. In keeping with the folk tradition, all the music is unamplified. Fortunately, the performers have well trained vocal instruments capable of reaching the back rows of the Margaret Lesher Theater.

This high-spirited celebration of Woody's music and the American spirit doesn't stop when the performance ends. Hootenannies with cast members after Sunday matinees will take place. The free event encourages audience members to bring an instrument, sing along or clap to the rhythms. Barbecue picnics from 4:40 to 7 p.m. June 8, 15 and 22 in the Lesher Center Plaza are also planned. The show runs through June 23 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive. For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW or go to lesherartscenter.org.

"This Land is Your Land" Rings Out in Center REP's Terrific Production of Woody Sez


By Vince Mediaa

Posted: 05/28/2019

The Life of Woody Guthrie, an American Folk Hero, Brings the Dust Bowl and Union Themes Full Force and Will Keep Your Feet Stomping

The fans of the Margaret Lesher Theatre are humming classic American Folk songs this spring as WOODY SEZ The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie closes the CenterRep's stunning 52nd season. The music of this American Hero is now on the Walnut Creek stage through June 23rd. This journey through the life of Woody Guthrie - is told mostly through Woody's writings, and songs, and is performed by a multi-talented powerhouse cast of actors, singers, and musicians - Darcie Deaville, David M. Lutken, Megan Loomis, and David Finch. The company plays multiple roles and instruments. Center Rep Artistic director Michael Butler says "this cast of Woody Sez brings some Jedi level performers to Walnut Creek. They have been on Broadway and toured the world staging this show, we are excited to have this company here to close our 2018 - 19 season."This high-spirited celebration of Woody's music and the American spirit doesn't stop when the performance ends. Hootenannies with cast members after Sunday matinees will take place. The free event encourages audience members to bring an instrument, sing along or clap to the rhythms. Barbecue picnics from 4:40 to 7 p.m. June 8 and 15 in the Lesher Center Plaza are also planned. The show runs through June 23 at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive. For tickets, call 925-943-SHOW or go to lesherartscenter.org.In its Song packed two hour show, we are introduced to 30 of Woody Guthrie's songs. Guthrie wrote over 1,500 songs; many were political, some were the blues, including children's songs. The gifted David M Lutken plays Woody and he is also the narrator as he explores the man's life. The story opens as we see Woody prepare for a live 1940's Radio Broadcast, Lutken sings "Talkin New York City 1940" as the radio producer is shocked by his revolutionary lyrics. Woody's life is covered from his birth in 1912 until his final days in 1967. The songs are all acoustic and well performed under the music direction Lutken who also help create the concept of the show.

Lutken is terrific and is a keen guitar player and has an ideal singing voice. His solo highlights include the first version of "This Land is Your Land," "Dust Storm Disaster," and "I Ain't Got No Home." It is the best of Guthrie's well-known songs with monologues about Guthrie's colorful and yet dark life growing up through the Depression and the dust storm. He watched his mother suffer from Huntington's DIsease the same genetic neurological disorder that claimed his life at only 55. He was also marked "Red" in the McCarthy red scare blacklisting of the 1950s, enduring so many personal tragedies. His work for the unions, his influence on his own children - Arlo and Nora Guthrie who kept his legacy alive as they become published and popular recording artists. Woody's music influenced a generation of folk singers like The Weavers, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary - and what modern Rap is today.

To warm up the sold out opening night audience, the cast played some tunes before the show and in the lobby there is a bit of a Sunday jam at the end of that performance. Everyone is invited to bring their instruments to join in with the cast. Luke Cantarella's visually earth tone set includes a landscape background and authentic pictures and paintings of Woody. The Margaret Lesher Theatre's stage has a dust bowl feel to it. Jeffrey Meek provides that real feel to his costume design and each actor's shoes have that "walk in" a 100 miles feel. The gifted David Finch plays various supporting characters that range from old friends, radio hosts, and the iconic Pete Seeger. He is a flawless actor and shows his musical versatility playing the jaw harp, guitar, and singing in the show. His solo performance of "Talkin' Dust Bowl" was fantastic. The songs "I Ride an Old Paint" and "Vigilante Man" show off the excellent timing between Lutken and Finch.

The fantastic Darcie Deaville plays many roles, she also is a graceful singer and is a full throttle fiddler and guitarist. Her performances of "The Ballad of Tom Joad" and "Talking Merchant Marine" are showstoppers. The skillful Megan Loomis plays most of the female roles in the show, but it's her performance as Woody's mother is heart warming. In the second act after she had died Woody speaks to her when his own health starts to diminish. WOODY SEZ: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie is filled with polished music and performances.

Guthrie's songs are more meaningful and timeless in our current Trump era. It would be impressive to see a younger audience in the house to experience WOODY. The Center REP makes it easy to snag tickets to this concert like show. This is the best evening of theatre to close the Reps season. Up next as their new 53rd season launches this fall is MURDER FOR TWO a musical that opens August 30th. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE opens March 27th and a unannounced Tony winning musical will close out the season in May of 2020. But in the meantime bring your own instrument to jam with the cast of WOODY SEZ, and enjoy some amazing iconic American Music that changed a generation.

Center REP honors Guthrie with "Woody Sez"

By Judy Richter, Daily Journal Correspondent

Posted: 05/25/2019

When the name Woody Guthrie comes up, people probably associate him with his most popular song, "This Land Is Your Land," and perhaps his son Arlo Guthrie.

However, he was much more than that, as shown in Woody Sez: The Life & of Woody Guthrie, presented by Center Repertory Company.

This musical biography with its dozens of songs looks at the tragedies in his life and the destitution that led to voicing his activism through song. Some people considered him a radical, especially given his allegiance to communism, but he had seen the despair of people during the Depression and the Dust Bowl days.

Born in Oklahoma in 1912, he lost homes and his sister because of fires. It's gradually implied that they were set by his mother, who died of debilitating Huntington's disease when he was 14.

Before long, he was a wanderer, finding work wherever he could and singing his songs.

One of the most vivid scenes in the show, joined with "Talkin' Dust Bowl" and "Dust Storm Disaster," culminates in the unprecedented April 1935 dust storm that caused him to join thousands of other Oklahomans on the arduous trek to California.

This is followed by the desperation of hundreds of migrants waiting to pick fruit while the company store granted them credit that took away their cars and other belongings.

Much more transpires with three marriages, the deaths of some of his eight children and his own death from Huntington's in 1967.

This show was devised by music director David M. Lutken with director Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell and Andy Teirstein.

Lutken takes on the role of Guthrie while Deaville, Megan Loomis and David Finch assume others. These multi-talented musicians play an array of acoustic instruments such as guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo, harmonica and even spoons.

Running about two hours with one intermission, the entertaining, informative Woody Sez will continue through June 23 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.

Sunday matinees will be followed by free hootenannies.

The Songs and High Spriits of Woody Guthrie Come Alive as Center REP Presents "Woody Sez"


By Jan Miller

Posted: 05/24/2019

The story and the spirit of Woody Guthrie, who became the ideal for such legends as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylans and all the other troubadours "singin' for the plain folks and gettin' in trouble with the rich folks," have been brought to the stage in a powerful musical revue at the Lesher Center for the Arts in downtown Walnut Creek, CA., running through Sunday, June 23.

Woody Sez is basically a theatrical patchwork, piecing together pieces of biography and social history with bits of music and drama, performed by four remarkably multi-talented individuals. David M. Lutken, who gives a great vocal impression of Woody Guthrie, devised the show along with director Nick Corley. He is joined by Darcie Deaville, Megan Loomis, and David Finch, and together they recreate the journey of Guthrie (1912-1967), the essential voice of American folk and protest music of the '30s and '40s. Each is an accomplished singer and actor, each very adept at playing several of the dozen or so musical instruments arrayed on the stage - and they do so with a real flair!

Finch demonstrates remarkable instrumental versatility, playing the fiddle as he contorts his body, and even 'plays' the spoons, which proves to be very popular with the audience. Darcie Deaville plays mandolin and fiddle while Megan Loomisl is most often seen on the double bass, although both of them play several other instruments with great aplomb.

Woody Sez offers a great deal of biographical detail, including snippets of more than 40 songs in about two hours. As for Guthrie himself - this show, which moves at a brisk, yet polished pace, articulates his uncondescending articulation of working-class woes and accessible, common-sense critiques of the privileged class.

Some of the best-known songs - "This Land Is Your Land", "This Train Is Bound for Glory" and "Pastures of Plenty" were his own compositions. Guthrie also contributed to the archive of American folk song with recordings of other people's songs he made in the early 1940s.

Woody Sez is rich in biographical detail, letting audiences know that Woody was born in Okemah, Okfuskee County, Oklahoma and was named after Woodrow Wilson the then-Democratic Party Governor of New Jersey. Woody's mother suffered from the genetic, neurological disorder Huntington's Disease, which he inherited.

Woody Sez comprises quick glimpses at moments throughout Guthrie's life, at one point having him singing his version of "This Land Is Your Land" in New York amid some retro ad jingles of the time. Then the show flashes back to Guthrie's early years in Oklahoma and Texas under his mother's musical influence. The audience then sees the dawn of Guthrie's existence during the Dust Bowl and the Depression, when he left his first wife and two children to join the countless destitute Midwesterners who migrated to California seeking work. "California is as beautiful a place as you can find," Guthrie says, "to starve to death in."

There is little choreography apart from David Lutken's mesmerizing heel shuffle as instruments are exchanged on an ongoing basis. Still, the visuals are basic, including a backdrop of photographs of Woody and his family and wooden crates to hold the spare musical instruments. Quite simply, it's the performers who steal the show.

Woody Sez is one of the best and friendliest celebrations of this type of music, beautifully sung and expertly performed.


Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie

By Marc Gonzalez

May 28, 2019

The music of Woody Guthrie may stand the test of time, but it was his outspoken nature when addressing issues of injustice and the government that propelled him to the status of American legend. Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie may appear surface-level in its presentation; complete with nostalgic, good-natured anecdotes and phraseology that almost romanticizes the pre- and post-Dust Bowl period. However, the show itself, specifically where the lyrics and monologues are concerned, is compelling, demonstrating a not-so-easy, laid back life that Guthrie’s tunes may have depicted. Performed with finesse by a quartet of extremely talented performers, Center Rep’s production of Woody Sez… says all the right things audiences need to hear, whether back then or today.

What is a marathon for David M. Lutken is also a decathlon-relay for his supporting trio. Not once do the four performers leave the stage, and it is in Mr. Lutken’s genial, southern, hospitable demeanor which bears the majority of the line load and singing. Mr. Lutken fluidly passes between Guthrie, at all ages, in scene, monologue, and song, while also being the musical’s consummate narrator. Supporting him well are Darcie Deaville, Megan Loomis, and David Finch, all busy most of the show. All the Guthrie standards are present, and even a few more obscure tunes make their way in, in true storytelling fashion. The quartet is phenomenal in displaying their stringed-instrument talents as they play with intimacy and excitement the very songs which made Guthrie the voice of anti-war and radio enjoyment he was. The harmonies these four share are lazy in ease and timbre, though not in precision, which is impeccable. The camaraderie and various characters in Guthrie’s life, which the three supporting players portray, are flawlessly devised and incredibly nuanced.

Luke Cantarella’s scenic design leaves the bulk of the stage open, while being bordered by Guthrie-related images and signs. Having the stringed instruments littered across the stage sets the musical tone immediately, and is instrumental to the flow of the show. Seth Reiser’s lighting design is a healthy mix of mood-setting tones and shadowy pools for Mr. Lutken to deliver the more intimate exposition. Nick Corley’s direction keeps the show moving, embedding an ease to the transitions between vignettes and the 40+ song playlist (don’t worry, they don’t the play the entirety of every song listed).

With plenty of humor and toe-tapping tunes, Woody Sez… is a marvelously crafted musical homage to one of the nation’s best-known troubadours. From start to finish, this quartet is on fire in delivery and performance, and they will certainly provide you and yours an entertaining time at the theater.

Woody Guthrie's music, politics share stage in Walnut Creek

Jukebox musical gets California premiere at Lesher Center

By Sam Hurwitt

Posted: 05/28/19

“Fascism is all around you now, closer than I can make you see.”

Folk singer Woody Guthrie wasn’t just one of the great American songwriters, but he was also a relentless teller of uncomfortable truths about the inequities of our society and how desperately hard the powerful make life for the poor. Much of the time those two sides of his life’s work were really the same thing. Both are conveyed loud and clear in “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie,” the folk jukebox musical that Center Repertory Company has brought to Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.

“Woody Sez” was devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell and Andy Teirstein and premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007. Corley directs, Lutken is the music director, and Lutken and Deaville are among the performers, along with David Finch and Megan Loomis, who have also toured with the show for a long time.

Like “American Song” (in which Lutken and Deaville have both performed), “Woody Sez” is largely told in Guthrie’s own words, but unlike its predecessor this one paints a biographical portrait of Guthrie between and woven throughout the songs.

It starts casually, with the four performers wandering onto the stage and starting to play instruments before any introduction or dimming of lights. Lutken starts off narrating as himself, talking about his introduction to Guthrie’s music as a kid, but soon starts telling and embodying the story as Woody himself for the rest of the show.

The stage is a wide open space ringed by more than 20 acoustic instruments, with just a few stools and crates by way of furniture, with a few hanging photos and a backdrop of flat, barren farmland at sunset making up Luke Cantarella’s scenic design.

The show is structured as a kind of freewheeling folk concert that also tells a story, with the performers briefly taking on various roles as needed — usually just for a line or two while playing their instruments, but occasionally for an actual scene.

Deaville’s singing voice sounded strained on opening night, but all four are marvelously skilled musicians that play the songs with playful jubilance, mournful resonance and stirring vigor. Once a week, some performances include post-show hootenannies with audience members and local musicians invited to join in the jam session.

The songs, of course, are superb, from inspiring anthems like “This Land Is Your Land” and “Union Maid” and playful ditties like “Jolly Banker” and “Ridin’ in My Car” to wry talking blues and somber laments such as “Sinking of the Reuben James” and “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).”

Lutken embodies Guthrie with easygoing charm and piercing wisdom while recounting his travels and the injustices he witnessed as well as when revisiting personal tragedies and failures. Woody’s story is told only in broad strokes, of course, because ultimately the narrative is woven more around the music than vice versa.

There are some rough edges, certainly, but it’s the kind of piece that feels all the more natural when it’s not too polished, even if Walnut Creek is the 70th city the show has visited (and yet the first in California).

More than anything, “Woody Sez” pays tribute to Guthrie as an eloquent and necessary voice for the downtrodden and thorn in the side of the powerful, a legend whose words still resound from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters.