Calling all folk fans and musicians... this show is for you! In fact I think anyone who appreciates music will enjoy Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre. This new musical explores the life and music of folk icon Woody Guthrie. Known more often as the man who inspired and mentored Bob Dylan, we now meet Guthrie as a legend in his own right, which is how he deserves to be remembered.
I took a module on Guthrie and Dylan at university, probably my favourite topic the whole three years I was there. The intrinsic link between music and history makes Woody’s music magically moving and very real. I went to see the show on a Monday, not the most popular night for theatre trips. Sadly the auditorium was half empty; such a waste considering the massive surge in folk music's popularity recently. Perhaps this is a result of little advertising - had I not poked around I too would have been oblivious to this gem of a show.
It is the four passionate performers that make this production outstanding. Aside from being very talented multi-instrumentalists they have a Guthrie wisdom and an infectious joy that make the audience immediately feel at ease; consequently it is impossible not to listen to and enjoy their journey. The stage is simply set, with a backdrop of Woody photos and instruments of all shapes and sizes lining the sides of the platform, I counted twelve in total.
There is a real fluidity about the show: the performers frequently switch characters and yet the whole story is effectively united with a long list of songs. Woody is played by the musical director and writer David M Lutken. Lutken is obviously a specialist in the subject and a very charismatic performer. The script features thirty-four Guthrie songs, but with intros and encores the final number is more like forty! Lutken sometimes sings and occasionally speaks the lyrics almost like a monologue. Every song is performed with an energetic bounce and a kind of humour, it is beautiful to see and hear. Darcie Deaville and Helen Jean Russell are wonderful as the female cast members. Folk music lends itself to harmonising and they create wonderful nuances with their voices. The flaws in a performer’s voice can be what makes it most beautiful. Music was definitely much more emotional before auto tune was invented!
David Finch (Andy Teirstein’s alternative) was hilarious as the fourth cast member. He played everything from classical violin to spoons - which I have never been lucky enough to see before - let me tell you it is quite staggering to watch. He plays various characters through Woody’s travels, and to each part brings a new personality, it was great fun to watch.
At 9.30pm on Saturdays (after the evening performance) they hold a jam session in the foyer for everyone and anyone. I was quite honestly blown away by this show, and urge you to visit this musical tribute before its limited run is over. Woody Sez introduces a cast not just of performers but of devoted musicians, their verve made this show one of the best off-West End productions I have seen in a long time.
Woody Sez continues until April 2nd at the Arts Theatre, book tickets here.