'Woody Guthrie's American Song' a must-see at Ferndale Rep

Sometimes an artist who is culturally canonized as iconic has been considered such for so long that those of us who shared this earth with their remarkable talent have actually forgotten what prompted that homage in the first place.

Not only has the original basis for their noteworthiness slowly faded from vivid to pastel in our collective memories, but the undeniable power of their words and voices have also gradually dimmed to little more than a cliched memory.

But, we can't afford to lose what they left behind -- those fire-in-the-belly feelings and observations of the human spirit that drove these dreamers to write, paint, compose, play, sing and then share their personal passions about us, with us.

That's why it's so satisfying to reacquaint ourselves with the timeless, unique talent of singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, an incomparable, man-of-the-people whose flame still burns brightly. This month the world celebrates this outspoken, outrageous, visionary and quintessentially American talent's 100th birthday.

And, luckily for those of us who reside in Humboldt County, we can rediscover and enjoy his genius on stage at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre in "Woody Guthrie's American Song."

An exuberant, award-winning adaptation of material put together in the late 1980s by Paul Glazer, the show is a fascinating musical revue that combines a vivid patchwork of Guthrie's most famous takes on the world.

Born in Oklahoma in the 1930s during the hardest of times for rural working folks, Guthrie scrappily lived through some of the 20th century's most significant historic movements and events.

In the process, his music created truthful, unblinking portraits that echoed and reflected the daily struggles of people just like him, his family, friends and neighbors. He incorporated bits and pieces of what he saw and experienced into his ongoing work: the Great Depression, the dust bowl, World War II and the social and political upheavals resulting from unionism, communism and the Cold War.

He took on the unfair working conditions, wages and precarious lives of the invisible people and families who put food on our tables, but often had none on their own. If you hear his ironic, poignant song, "Deportees" and it doesn't haunt you, you have no heart.

Using ballads, prose and poetry, Guthrie brought many unseen or ignored issues into the spotlight, ones that can remind us what being human, not just American, is all about. His sly swipes at big money and slick politicians still sting today as he hits the targets with wicked wit.

So, kudos to Ferndale Rep director Dianne Zuleger for skillfully assembling a talented ensemble of actors, singers and musicians who ultimately bring the words and music of Woody Guthrie to life as they perform some of his most memorable, including: "I Ain't Got No Home in this World Anymore," "So Long, It's Been Good To Know Ya," "Worried Man Blues," "Ain't Gonna Be Treated This-Away Anymore," "Hard, Ain't It Hard," "Pasture of Plenty," "Bound For Glory" and "This Land Is Your Land" -- a song that so completely personifies the country, that many feel it should be our national anthem.

The multitalented acting and singing ensemble features Devin Galdieri, Jo Kuzelka, Steve Nobles, KJ, Roger Vernon, Lynn McFee, Jeremy Webb and director Zuleger. The band members are Val Leone, Pete Zuleger and Larry Hudspeth.

Liz Uhazy did the simple, mobile, rustic set and sound design, often accompanied with a backdrop of original, black and white photos of historic events (programmed by Ginger Gene) that stagger you with forgotten impact. The authentic, visual impact is further enhanced by the earthy costumes and props provided by Kuzelka and the cast.

When you experience "Woody Guthrie's American Song" at Ferndale Repertory Theatre, you'll agree with Guthrie that "There's a feeling in music, and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again." Don't miss your chance to live it.

The show continues its alternating run (with "Cabaret") at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. The show then returns at 8 p.m. Aug. 17 and 18 and 2 p.m. Aug. 19. The production is suitable for all ages. For tickets, call 1 (800) 838-3006 or visit www.ferndale-rep.org.

If you go

What: "Woody Guthrie's American Song"

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Ferndale Repertory Theatre

Admission: $16 general, $14 students/military