It’s all about YOU
Woody Sez Arts Theatre
13th January to 2nd April 2011
Published in Socialist Review Feb 2011
Woody Sez could be categorised as a jukebox musical, but unlike We Will Rock You or Mamma Mia, there’s no glitz or glamour. Refreshingly there are no microphones or belting voices, no high kicking dancers or flash sets, just the intimate experience of four musicians messing about on a dozen or so instruments and singing through the hard times of the life of Woody Guthrie. The charm of this show is the simplicity with which the songs are woven into a fabric of a story that blows Woody across America, learning about all kinds of folk from the songs they sung. Many of these peoples were migrants from across the world and he felt as though he had travelled across the world, discovering their stories and picked up their tunes, rhythms and words.
Born in 1912 in the brand new state of Oklahoma, the coming of the dust storms pushed him off to look for work in California, along with thousands of other migratory workers. He took with him the hill-billy folk songs of where he grew up and made enough money singing them on the radio to send home to the wife and kids. The rest of his life was to see him travel to where he could find some work, sometimes with his family and sometimes without.
From the depths of the Great Depression and the dust bowl ballads to Woody’s radio broadcasts, often too radical for the station owners, from the fabulously playful children’s song to his times with Pete Seeger singing at union halls and picket lines, Woody discovered how to be the voice of the people he met.
The tales are plainly told and demonstrate how Woody lived the life he sung about. Often hungry, often ramblin’ and often suffering from the sorrow around him. A strong sense of injustice pervaded everything and an understanding that the people in his world were exploited and trodden down by the mighty, always with a sense that ‘everything we do is aimed right at going on’.
He eschewed the term poet, claiming every word came from the ‘you’ that he met along the way. In this production and throughout his life the high-spirited rhythms and the power of song shines through and keeps the hope that one day, like the rabbits hiding in the log from the pack of preying dogs, we will outnumber ’em.