The Penobscot Theatre Company, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Bari Newport, opened its 46th season with another memorial to an American songwriter that will have audiences singing along with the troupe of talented musicians and singers on stage.
“Woody Guthrie’s American Song” is a rousing tribute to the huge library of songs he left behind when he died in 1967 at the age of 55 of Huntington’s disease. This show is similar to “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” which opened PTC’s 2015 season and “Always … Patsy Cline,” produced in 2012.
In addition to celebrating many of Guthrie’s best known and most influential songs, the show purports to be a biography as well. Theatergoers looking for insight into Guthrie’s creative process and his personal life will be sorely disappointed. “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” is more a Hallmark movie of the month than a Ken Burns’ documentary.
But the cast of Heather Astbury-Libby, Chris “Red” Blisset, John Burstein, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Tova Volcheck and Gaylen Smith create a tight musical ensemble. Blisset, who directed the production, and music director Sevelovitz are agile musicians, who play a variety of instruments that give depth to Guthrie’s compositions. Volcheck’s fiddling goes from a lively square dance tune to a haunting melody in a short blackout.
It is impossible to praise one cast member over another because they so often perform with one voice and transform into a choir belting out sacred music.