Nick Corley keeps himself pretty busy these days, but the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the music and life of Woody Guthrie is something he just can’t seem to pass up.
Since May 2007, when he and David Lutken created “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Corley has been directing various versions of this musical portrait of the “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”
Over the next two weekends, with Lutken performing as Guthrie, the production takes center stage at the Charles R. Wood Theater as part of the Adirondack Theatre Festival’s summer season. Corley, whose performing credits include the Broadway smash “Mary Poppins,” is the director.
“We tell the tale of his journey through his life through his music,” said Corley, who is also directing a production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” this summer at the Skinner Barn in Waitsfield, Vt. “People know his songs, but we’re helping people get to know the person, and about how his music and his songs actually came out of his life.”
‘Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie’
WHERE: Adirondack Theatre Festival, at the Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls
WHEN: Previews 7:30 tonight; opens 7:30 p.m. Friday and runs through July 28; performance times are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and at 2 p.m. July 25
HOW MUCH: $40-$25
MORE INFO: 874-0800, www.atfestival.org
Centennial of birth
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie would have turned 100 Saturday. He was born on July 14, 1912, in the small town of Okemah, Okla. His father was a successful businessman, a politician and, according to Woody, a member of the Ku Klux Klan in that area of the state that was involved in a famous lynching of two black people in 1911.
Guthrie wrote three songs that referred to the incident, but much of his music focused on the trials and tribulations of migrant workers from Oklahoma to California. In 1940, Guthrie wrote his most famous ballad, “This Land is Your Land,” an American anthem to many and his response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” a song Guthrie thought was overly patriotic and unrealistic.
Guthrie died in 1967 due to complications of Huntington’s disease at the age of 55, but not before creating a legacy that deeply influenced later musicians such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
Guthrie was married three times and fathered eight children, including folk musician Arlo and daughter Nora, who happens to be a big fan of “Woody Sez.”
“She called the performance very authentic, and gave us the permission to carry on,” Corley said. “She’s the one who has the rights to Woody’s songs. The show’s been getting great reviews all over, and we’ve done it all over the U.S. and Europe, but it was really nice to have her say it. That was important to us.”
Four musicians/actors play nearly 20 instruments during the show, and joining Lutken on stage will be Helen Russell, Darcie Deaville and David Finch. While others have filled in at times, Russell and Deaville are mainstays in the show, as is Finch, who is taking the place of Andy Teirstein, one of the original four performers. While Lutken is Guthrie, the other three play various characters from his life.
“David [Finch] has done more now than the original guy,” said Corley. “All four of them are wonderful actors, and they’re not just actors who happen to play an instrument or two. They are great musicians to the utmost degree, and what they do in the show is incredible.”
Making all the parts come together is Lutken, a Dallas native who has been playing music and performing on stage for 30 years. Like Corley, he has Broadway credentials, his most recent role coming in the 2007 revival of “Inherit the Wind.”
“Dave is very Woody-esque,” Corley said of Lutken, who returned to the U.S. earlier this week after touring with the show in Germany. “He’s taller than Woody, and he doesn’t necessarily try to sound like him. But he’s a one-of-a-kind performer, like Woody, and everything he does is very heartfelt and organic. When Nora says there’s a real authenticity to the show, she’s talking about David.”
Lutken began his professional connection with Guthrie in 1988 when he began working for Woody Guthrie Publications, creating various folk music/American history lessons for school children and young adults. Then, in 2007, he and Corley joined forces to create “Woody Sez,” and perform it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
“They needed a 60-minute show, so Dave and I got together, and he knew the songs he wanted to do,” remembered Corley. “We put together something, and the people loved it. We thought, ‘Hey, maybe we have something here, a show,’ and then we carefully went about expanding it to 90 minutes. I didn’t know that much about Woody, but Dave knew his story intimately, and then we got the rights to go ahead and continue doing the show.”
Back to Broadway
After getting the show off the ground in Glens Falls, and hopefully being a part of Saturday’s post-performance hootenanny at the Davidson Brothers Brewing Co. right across Glen Street from the Charles Wood Theater, Corley will be heading back to New York City for a return to Broadway.
“I’m doing double-Drood duty,” joked Corley, who after directing “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” in Vermont, will be one of the performers in the play’s coming Broadway revival.
“I haven’t performed since I was in ‘Mary Poppins,’ so it’s a little bit scary. But it’s a chance to do a show with Chita Rivera, not to mention being back on Broadway, so I’m not going to say no to that.”
Rivera, a nine-time Tony nominee and two-time winner, will star in the Rupert Holmes’ musical comedy, which opens Oct. 19 at the Studio 54 Theater under the direction of Scott Ellis.