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Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014

Listening to Woody Guthrie

Woody Sez
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The Milwaukee Repertory Theater pays tribute to American folk music legend Woody Guthrie by presenting Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie. The touring show consists of a four-musician ensemble offering an entertaining, neat and concise look at the life of the man who has inspired so many others.

The narrative biographical bits of Woody Sez are woven around the music with a sharp ear for pacing and optimal storytelling. Co-creator David M. Lutken does a really good job of selling a kind of folksiness that radiates just enough warmth to delicately render a portrait of Guthrie. David Finch makes a favorable impression on fiddle, but his real accomplishment here is adding to the dramatic end of the story with a variety of different supporting characterizations that interact with Lutken, who slides in and out of the role of Guthrie a number of times over the course of the show. Leenya Rideout matches Lutken on fiddle, guitar and a few other musical elements as well. She’s got a cleverly understated presence onstage that’s deeply charming. Co-creator Helen Jean Russell rounds out the ensemble with a beautiful voice that nestles quite well into the rest of the musical fabric of the show.

Woody Sez shies away from the more political end of its subject matter, but while its social conscience isn’t the central focus, it is nice to know that Guthrie’s message is being so endearingly nudged into the ears of those who can afford to pay up to $45 a ticket to see the show.

The Milwaukee Rep’s production of Woody Sez runs through March 9, at the Stackner Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, call 414-224-9490 or visit milwaukeerep.com.