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'Woody Sez' brings folk legend Guthrie to life

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Entertainment,Robert Fulton

Woody Guthrie is making a comeback.

"It's been a very interesting ride over the last five years to hear from audiences that Woody is quite topical today, but in different ways to different people, and in very different ways as time goes by," said David Lutken, of the stage show "Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie." "Woody seems to kind of ride a wave of topicality no matter where we go."

"Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie" begins its run at the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center's Theater J on Thursday.

Lutken conceived and wrote "Woody Sez" and plays the lead. The show features a number of Guthrie's songs while telling the musician's life.

Onstage
'Woody Sez'
» Where: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW
» When: Thursday through Dec. 2
» Info: $15 to $45; 800-494-TIXS (8497); washingtondcjcc.org

Woody Guthrie had always interested Lutken, who started playing his songs as a child. "Woody Sez" premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007.

"Woody Guthrie's life had always struck me as an incredible back drop to his music," Lutken said. "Not only because of his music and its political and socially conscious nature, but also because of his life and just the incredible intricacies and roller coaster ride of it and its parallels to many things in American history over the period of his life."

Lutken added that he drew inspiration from Guthrie's ballad "Tom Joad," named for the character in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

"Like so many Americans and like so much of the human race over the last many thousands of years, Woody was uprooted from his home and began to travel and spent the rest of his life traveling," Lutken said. "It was the comparison of that and his travels and his odyssey with the subject of the song he thought was his greatest song. What really inspired me to write the show was the parallels between Woody Guthrie and Tom Joad and Woody Guthrie's dealing with his own life through that song."

Born in 1912, Guthrie was a folk musician and writer that has influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Jeff Tweedy. He wrote hundreds of songs, probably none more famous than "This Land is Your Land," and his lyrics spoke of struggle and social justice. He died in 1967 from Huntington's disease, and July marked his 100th birthday.

"Woody Sez" features somewhere from 75 to 80 percent direct quotes from Guthrie. Lutken recalled a Guthrie quote where he addressed his universal approach to religion.

"That's a pretty good way of encapsulating his message," Lutken said. "We're all here and we're all in this, whatever it is, and everybody needs to be conscious of what's going on around you and help where you can."

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