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Woody Guthrie Honored Onstage At Northlight Theatre

Woody Sez

Woody Sez, a play commemorating the life of Woody Guthrie, is now onstage at the Northlight Theatre. (Credit: Northlight Theatre)

Vince Gerasole Vince Gerasole
Vince Gerasole serves as a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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SKOKIE, Ill. (CBS) — The Northlight Theatre in Skokie is hosting a play honoring the life and music of Woody Guthrie, who would have turned 100 this year.

CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reported Tuesday morning that the Northlight will be hosting the production “Woody Sez,” devised by David Lutken and Nick Corley and starring Lutken, through Oct. 21.

The theater describes the production as a musical portrait, featuring Guthrie’s many “stirring ballads and joyous anthems,” as well as chronicling his life and musical legacy.

Lutken says Guthrie has earned his self-description as the poet of the people.

“He was born in Oklahoma, grew up in Texas, and was a victim – like millions of other people there – of the Dust Bowl and the drought and the Depression in the 1930s, and he began writing songs with funny lyrics,” such as, “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You,” Lutken said.

But Guthrie’s lyrics were also rooted in a social conscience that inspired many musicians of future generations, including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, Lutken said. It also inspired former Rage against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who hosted a centennial celebration of Guthrie’s music at the Metro in Wrigleyville this past spring.

“Woody Sez” premiered in Scotland, and so far has had its greatest exposure on the other side of the Atlantic, Lutken said.

“We’ve actually played more in Great Britain and in Europe than we have in the United States,” he said.

And there is no shortage of interest in Guthrie’s work among European audiences, Lutken said.

“It’s kind of interesting – to me, I think it is because a certain portion of the population, anyway, they’re very interested in American art of all stripes, and they also find it a little bit exotic, I guess, because it’s really music that came from the British Isles, and then came to the United States, and now is going back,” he said.

Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 on July 14 of this year. He learned folk songs while traveling with migrant workers from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression, and later joined Pete Seeger and other legends in New York City’s leftist folk music community during the 1940s.

He served as a Merchant Marine during World War II before returning to New York. He died of Huntington’s disease at the age of 55 on Oct. 3, 1967.

The Northlight Theatre is located at 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie.