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Woody Sez at Northlight Theatre | Theater review

A tuneful revue serves as a solid primer on Woody Guthrie’s life and music.

Photograph: Tom Oldham
David M. Lutken in Woody Sez

Combining an expertly performed revue of Woody Guthrie’s songs with a more cursory review of his life, Woody Sez comprises an amiable introduction to the American folk-music pioneer and labor activist. The quartet of multi-instrumentalists is led by co-creator David M. Lutken, a gangly veteran of Broadway Americana revues such as The Will Rogers Follies and the Johnny Cash tribute Ring of Fire, who makes a striking match for Guthrie both physically and vocally.

The 90-minute show follows Guthrie’s life from his birth in Okemah, Oklahoma, through his family’s many migrations, to Texas, California, the Pacific Northwest and back again, with “The Ballad of Tom Joad” serving as a recurring touchstone. The four singers and musicians, who also include Darcie Deaville, David Finch and Helen Jean Russell, show off remarkable talent as they skip among snippets and excerpts of Guthrie’s extensive catalog; there are nods to the songwriter’s late contemporaries Pete Seeger and Leadbelly, as well as his influence on followers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

Unfortunately, as in most biographical revues of this ilk, the music gets more time than the bio. We hear Guthrie’s life story as isolated signposts along a time line, with short shrift given to psychological insight. Still, Woody Sez is a welcome reminder that “This Land Is Your Land” has more verses than most of us remember.

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