“Woody Guthrie’s American Song” – an ensemble musical featuring the words and music of the native Oklahoman – will be presented for the first time on an Oklahoma stage by the theatre program at Rogers State University.
The musical, conceived and adapted by Peter Glazer, has been presented at more than 100 theatres across the U.S. but never in Oklahoma, said David Blakely, RSU theatre coordinator.
“It’s ironic, but for some reason, no Oklahoma theatre group has attempted to stage it,” Blakely said. “Since interest in Woody Guthrie is high, we thought it was time to bring his words and music back to the stage in Oklahoma.”
“Woody Guthrie’s American Song” will be presented by RSU Theatre Oct. 25-27 in the Black Box Theatre of the Robson Performing Arts Center in Claremore. Performances will begin at 7:07 p.m.
The production features 90 minutes of Guthrie’s music interspersed with dialogue, featuring seven cast members, each of whom will have the opportunity to exercise both their singing and speaking voices. The cast includes Dr. William Hart, RSU health sciences professor, Dr. Curtis Farrar, a Claremore physician, and several RSU students, including Kaitie Bryan of Claremore, Josh Buehler of Oologah, Tabitha Joplin of Claremore and Katie King of Claremore. The new RSU music program will provide accompaniment during the show.
The play was written in 1988 and has won dozens of awards, including two Bay Area Drama Critics Awards, three Joseph Jefferson Awards in Chicago and nominations for the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle in New York.
According to Glazer, he was inspired to develop the show after reading one of Guthrie’s essays in which the songwriter said he “borrowed his life from the lives and work of those around him.” Consequently, Glazer decided to give Guthrie’s music, based on the lives on “regular” working people, back to theatre-goers.
Glazer is a director and playwright whose works include “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music,” “Michael, Margaret, Pat & Kate,” “Heart of Spain – A Musical of the Spanish Civil War”and “Foe,” adapted from Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee’s novel. He is an associate professor in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
Woody Guthrie is an American legend: a rambling troubadour who made the scene at a hundred historical happenings – the Oklahoma oil boom, the Dust Bowl migrations, the Great Depression, and made these scenes unforgettable with songs of praise and protest. “This Land Is Your Land,” “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You,” “Pastures of Plenty” and “Union Maid” are just a few of the Guthrie songs that have made his name a byword in American music.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, named in honor of the U.S. president, was born in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. In his early teens, with bad times at home, Woody took to the road from Texas to California, working the farms and orchards, with odd jobs here and there, until he landed a radio program of his own in late 1939 in Los Angeles.
He was a participant in the union movements that founded the early agricultural workers union and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), singing at union halls and on picket lines. In 1941 he headed for New York and served a stint in the Merchant fleets during World War II. His acclaimed autobiography, “Bound for Glory,” was written in 1943 and made into a major film in 1976.
In October 1967, after many years in hospitals, Guthrie died as a result of Huntington’s disease. He had written over 1,000 songs.
Tickets will be available at the door and are $5 for adults; $3 for senior citizens and area students; and free for all RSU students, staff and faculty members. For more information, contact the RSU theatre program at (918) 343-7521.