America’s singing

Woody Guthrie’s American Song

Woody Guthrie’s American Song; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; $13-$15. City Theatre performing at West Sacramento Community Center Black Box Theatre, 1075 W. Capitol Avenue, West Sacramento.; (916) 558-2228; Through April 29.

West Sacramento Community Center

1075 West Capitol Ave.
West Sacramento, CA 95691

(916) 617-4620

Rated 3.0

Any time’s a good time to hear a Woody Guthrie song. City Theatre of Sacramento City College has presented Woody Guthrie’s American Song, Peter Glazer’s musical biography of the troubadour before, but it’s worth the occasional reprise.

The play celebrates Woody’s songs of disappointment and despair, his vision of the American dream turned nightmare for many, and his modest goal to be “the man who taught you something you already knew.” Guthrie traveled the country, from Dust Bowl Oklahoma to California (a lot of it around here in Northern California) to New York City, talking to and learning from ordinary people. He translated their experiences into songs, which he then sang back to them.

In Glazer’s musical, the songs are linked by a narrative delivered in three voices—Guthrie as the Searcher, the Folksinger and the Writer (portrayed by Anthony Person, J.J. Charlesworth and Bradley Moates, respectively). An enthusiastic ensemble of 20 actor/singers, backed by an excellent four-piece band performs, about two dozen tunes, both well- and little-known. “This Land Is Your Land,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You” and “Union Maid” are, of course, included. Among the highlights are the ensemble’s rousing “Hard Travelin’,” which opens the show, and the familiar “Bound for Glory,” plus Christine Nicholson's roaring “Hard, Ain’t It Hard” and Martha Omiyo Kight’s sentient contribution to “Ain’t Gonna Be Treated This Way.” Maria Ryken provides lovely harmonies (especially with Nicholson) and LoriAnn DeLappe-Grondin adds tasteful harmonica touches.

Director Luther Hanson was hampered by hesitance on the part of several actors opening night, but he kept the proceedings on track and succeeded in communicating the spirit of Guthrie’s workingman ethos. The most complicated element of Shawn Weinsheink’s spare set is a movable elevated stage that serves as everything from bandstand to railroad car. Angela Dee Alforque’s uncomplicated but effective choreography and Nicole Sivell’s period costume designs add to the production.

This is City Theatre’s last production in the West Sacramento Black Box Theatre before returning to its refurbished home at Sacramento City College.