Monday, October 17, 2011

Woody Guthrie's American Song

WOODY GUTHRIE’S AMERICAN SONG educates and delights at Actors’ Summit

If Woody Guthrie, America’s rambling troubadour were alive today, he’d probably be mixing in with “his folk” at the Occupy Wall Street Movement rallies. Yes, Guthrie, who is the subject of WOODY GUTHRIE’S AMERICAN SONG, now on stage at Akron’s Actors’ Summit, would be strumming his guitar and telling the tales of the people he knew and whom he told song stories about.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. Though he was forced by dust storms and droughts to leave his Okie homeland, he never let the taste of the raging sands, the financial hardships and his love of the real people, fall far from his attention.

Guthrie took to the road early in life and became an itinerant folk singer, telling the tales of those hit hard by the fury of nature and the Great Depression. He clearly developed a vivid musical history of the farm workers, union members, illegal immigrants, labor strikers, and big and small town people. His lyric poems of praise and protest, classics such as So Long It’s Been Good to Know You, Pastures of Plenty, Union Made, and This Land Is Your Land, have engraved him as an indelible part of Americana.

The Actor’s Summit production, under the creative guidance of director Neil Thackaberry, makes for a delightful evening of theatre. The musical arrangements by Michael Anderson, and the talented cast, bring Guthrie’s ideas to life and teach his lessons well.

Rather than using the traditional narrator introduces songs which are sung as individual units, Thackaberry has all of the cast speak the story lines, alternating and often blending the words with the song lyrics. There is no backup orchestra, the actors play all the musical instruments. The music is integrated into the whole. This is a play about the people, performed by the people, for the people!

The entire cast is excellent. MaryJo Alexander, Ryan Anderson, Scott Davis, Sally Groth, Dana Hart, Mark Leach, Emma Pitch and Keith Stevens all have the right spoken sound of the people and sing with meaning. Even the costumes, shades of the muddy ground, are era and setting correct. The railroad car, saloon and thrust stage setting all enhance the atmosphere.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: WOODY GUTHRIE’S AMERICAN SONG is both an educational, theatrical, and pleasing experience. It’s very well worth the trip to Akron!