Hard Travelin' with Woody
nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 13, 2011
In 1962, Bob Dylan recorded his “Song to Woody.” It was one of the few original tracks on Dylan’s debut and it stated, rather straightforwardly, “Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song.” That line kept running through my head after seeing Randy Noojin’s solo show, Hard Travelin’ With Woody where I could see Noojin, who wrote and performed the piece, saying with equal straightforwardness, “Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a play,” before launching into his adept performance of this engaging, pleasing play.
Noojin plays (who else?) Woody Guthrie as he talks and plays songs (the program admits to the similarity between the two saying that the show is “based on the Musicy Words and Wordy Music” of Guthrie) at an Oklahoma Union Hall in 1940. Essentially, what the audience is treated to over the show’s 60-ish minutes, is a performance familiar to anyone who has ever seen a singer/songwriter perform: Noojin’s Guthrie tells entertaining stories that lead the audience through songs like “Hard Traveling,” the labor union staple “Which Side Are You On?” and, of course, a little number called “This Land Is Your Land.”
Guthrie’s stories are of his own life—his own hardship—and of the hardship of the working men and women of the Great Depression and beyond. Noojin’s skill with the rural, storyteller’s dialect is a constant delight, with Guthrie always making little jokes, puns and verbal plays that make the spoken sections of the show a pleasure to listen to. But what is more of a pleasure is getting to hear Woody Guthrie’s songs. While Noojin is not a transcendent performer in this role, he is more than comfortable enough in the trappings of Guthrie to take the character for a bit of a walk and have fun in the part. This is a great show for Guthrie fans and for those hearing these songs and stories for the first time.
Noojin does not bring a critical eye to Guthrie. He just lets him talk and lets him sing. The show, in the end, is a live, musical history lesson, a joy because Guthrie is a joy and because Noojin is good enough to bring out much of what made Guthrie such a compelling figure.