Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie

Nov. 8—Dec. 2 $15–$60
Theater J
1529 16th St. NW, Washington, DC
(202) 777-3210
This low-impact but high-spirited touring musical revue packs about 30 of Guthrie’s clear-eyed hymns of perseverance—some of the finest, most enduring stalwarts of the American songbook—into slightly more than an hour-and-a-half. Mercifully, these magnificent documents are not drizzled in Glee glaze, but performed unamplified by a skilled quartet on guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and various other stringed instruments while the audience is encouraged to clap and even sing along. Lanky Guthrie stand-in David Lutken does the Jolly Banker’s share of the talking and singing. As is often the case when actors portray real people, he’s handsomer than his subject was, a judgment enabled by the portrait of Guthrie that hangs above the stage, along with a three-canvas-panel Oklahoma landscape. The Woody Lutken most resembles is the cowboy from Toy Story voiced by Tom Hanks, a similarity I found only a little bit distracting. But he’s an affable presence even when shilling briefly for the CDs on sale in the lobby, and the other three singers and players—melancholoy-voiced Darcie Deaville, Helen Russell, and David Finch—offer more than capable support. If the evening never quite shook the over-reverent feeling of a cover-band concert, that’s problem endemic to bio-musicals. This one is a lot better than most. (CK)

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