For many, the songs of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie evoke a timeless American spirit and the strength that comes from hard work in tough times.
For many, the songs of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie evoke a timeless American spirit and the strength that comes from hard work in tough times. Camelot Theatre celebrates the folk artist and the American grit he loved with "Woody Guthrie's American Song."
The play, conceived and adapted by playwright Peter Glazer, tells Guthrie's story in words taken from the folk singer's songs and writings and includes more than two dozen songs that paint a portrait of his life and travels, including his anthem to America, "This Land is Your Land."
The show previews at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 8-9, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Tickets to the Aug. 8 preview cost $25, and proceeds will benefit The Amigo Club. Tickets for the Aug. 9 preview cost $12.
The show opens Friday, Aug. 10, and runs through Sept. 9. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays. A pay-what-you-can performance is set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15. Tickets cost $25, $23 for students and seniors.
"Woody Guthrie was an amazing artist," says Evalyn Hansen, assistant director and dramaturge. "He saw so much and had so much love for working people."
Guthrie was an influential folk-music hero and activist who wrote more than 1,000 songs. Many of them were about his travels from Oklahoma to California and his experiences during the Great Depression, the Oklahoma Dust Bowl era and his time as a migrant worker.
Born in 1912 to a middle-class family in Oklahoma, Guthrie's social and financial circumstances changed following his father's financial ruin, the loss of the family home to fire, and his mother's institutionalization as a result of Huntington's disease. By the time Guthrie was 14, he was on his own, living as an itinerant worker and playing music on the streets for food and money.
"I think his background and education made him even more aware of the poverty and social injustice around him," Hansen says. "Those experiences informed his music."
Hansen says the small cast has put a lot of energy and hard work into the show. Five performers — Peter Wickliffe, Tyler Ward, Scott Woolsey, Tamara Marston and Kendra Taylor — embody the character of Woody Guthrie at different stages in his life. The onstage country band will include cast members as well as musicians Peter Spring, Mark Tuttle and Mark Abdo.
"This is a remarkable group," Hansen says. "It's a very tight ensemble."
Camelot produced "Woody Guthrie's American Song" in 2003. Marston, Spring and Woolsey also made appearances in that production.
The company is producing the play again because July 14 would have been Guthrie's 100th birthday, and several theaters and music venues across the country are paying tribute to him, Hansen says. Guthrie died in 1967 at the age of 55.
Guthrie's work still resonates today, Hansen says.
"So much of what he witnessed and wrote about is still happening. We have parallels in the economy, a drought in the Midwest, migrant-worker issues and poverty. Times are similar, but also that American spirit that Woody loved is still thriving."
The greatest challenge in creating this show is honoring Guthrie's talent and his historical legacy, Hansen says.
"Woody Guthrie was such a profound human being. We want to bring out the greatness of this man and his music. I think we've done it. I think the audience will leave with uplifted feelings and tears in their eyes."
Tickets are available at www.camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250.