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Cleveland Play House Announces Woody Guthrie Show "Woody Sez," With Hootenannies

By Rich Heldenfels Published: August 13, 2013


The official word: Cleveland Play House enthusiastically brings to Northeast Ohio audiences the internationally acclaimed West End hit Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie.  This incredible production about the celebrated musician and iconic figurehead of the American Folk Movement, Woodie Guthrie, will take Cleveland Play House’s stage from Sept. 13 – Oct. 6 in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. 

This tumultuous, tragic, touching and joyful tale of “America’s greatest folk poet,” told in his own words, and featuring “Bound for Glory,” “Pastures of Plenty,” “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” “This Land is Your Land,” and two-dozen more of Woody Guthrie’s indelible protest songs, is vividly brought to life by the incredible cast of David M. Lutken (Deviser/Musical Director), Helen Jean Russell (Co-Deviser), David Finch and Leenya Rideout , along with Director and Co-Deviser Nick Corley.

A joyful, uplifting narrative about a difficult man’s difficult life during difficult times, Woody Sez is a tale of struggle, activism, patriotism and commitment. Guthrie’s songs have become ambassadors of the best of the American spirit.  CPH Interim Artistic Director Laura Kepley notes “Woody Sez is a joyous celebration of Woody Guthrie and his gutsy, challenging and patriotic voice but also a tribute to our fellow Americans who fought through those early decades of the 20th century with courage, resilience and hope.  Guthrie’s legacy inspires us to speak truth to power and to unite for justice.”

Introduced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007, Woody Sez has played Glasgow, Belfast, Munich, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and the West End. The 2013-14 production includes Cleveland Play House, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Syracuse Stage, followed by visits to New Zealand and China.

Lyn Gardner, theatre critic for The Guardian, wrote of the London engagement: “This low-key, high-spirited celebration of Guthrie's life and music knocks big West End biopics into a heap of dust.” Writing about the production at Theater J, Peter Marks of The Washington Post said, “The musicianship is first-class; the cast effortlessly adapts to the rousing spirit of the songwriter’s heartland balladeering and protest music. It’s pleasant to be reminded that once upon a time in America, raising one’s voice in dissent could make for some beautiful music.”

The performance, in the folk tradition, is unamplified and authentic. The show and the musical arrangements incorporate over twenty acoustic instruments.

Post-Show Hootenannies

A hootenanny (hü-tə-na-nē) is an informal get-together where folk musicians join in an unstructured and free flowing jam session, with no boundaries between audience and performer. 

Cleveland Play House ticket holders and the general public alike are invited and encouraged to bring along their instruments and join in these exciting and creative jam sessions following the Sunday matinee performances of Woody Sez on September 22nd, September 29th and August 6th only.  They will run from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. in the Allen Theatre lobby. 

These family-friendly hootenannies are FREE of charge and food and drink will be available for purchase.  Participants are encouraged to bring flyers about their own band, gig or musical get-together to display at CPH’s Community Table.

Cast/Creative Bios

DAVID FINCH is an actor/musician based in Brooklyn, New York. He has performed with Alan Cumming, Serj Tankian, Tony Bennett, Amanda Palmer and Dee Snider, among others, in venues ranging from Lincoln Center to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. A cast member of the Tony Award-winning revival of Cabaret, he performed on Broadway at Studio 54 and toured the U.S., Canada and Japan. He made his London West End debut with Evening Standard Best Musical nominee Woody Sez. Off-Broadway credits include Fame on 42nd Street and the New York premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Spring Storm. He toured Europe, the U.S. and Canada with Fame the Musical and regionally has performed in most of the U.S. Finch was an associate producer at Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS in New York from 2004 to 2006. His CD the fiddle made me do it is on iTunes. He is also co-creator and musical supervisor of Careless Love: A Down Home Musical. Please visit his website

DAVID M. LUTKEN (Deviser/Music Director/Original Cast) studied at London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He has performed in Europe and the United Kingdom, at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y and Carnegie Hall. He made his West End debut with Woody Sez (2011 London Evening Standard nominee, Best Musical). Broadway credits include Inherit the Wind, Ring of Fire, The Civil War and The Will Rogers Follies. At New York City Opera, he played the Balladeer in Benjamin Britten's Paul Bunyan. Off-Broadway includes Southern Comfort, Stars in Your Eyes, The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show, Woody Guthrie’s American Song and Winter Man. In the U.K., Dark of the Moon, Bonnie and Clyde and A Month in the Country. Selected U.S. regional credits are Man of La Mancha, Elmer Gantry, Finian’s Rainbow, Big River, Pump Boys and Dinettes, The Love List, Death in England, On Golden Pond, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Fire on the Mountain, Stand by Your Man, and In the Deep Heart’s Core. 2013 Helen Hayes Award, Best Lead Actor.

LEENYA RIDEOUT appeared on Broadway in War Horse, Cyrano de Bergerac with Kevin Kline, Company (Jenny), and Cabaret. Off-Broadway credits include Yiddle with a Fiddle, American Jewish Theatre; The Portable Pioneer and Prairie Show, Melting Pot Theatre Company; and Cowgirls, Minetta Lane. Regional theatre includes The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and Gypsy, Hangar Theatre; Holidays with the Chalks, Alliance Theatre; Merrily We Roll Along (Gussie) and Avenue X , Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Man of La Mancha (Aldonza), ACCC; Cardenio, A.R.T.; Summer of 42, Mill Mountain Theatre; Canterbury Tales, Guthrie Theater; and Guys and Dolls, North Carolina Theatre. She toured internationally as Eliza in My Fair Lady. Films include Mona Lisa Smile, Loser, and Bittersweet. Television and radio includes Company and My Favorite Broadway (PBS) as well as Nashville Star, the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and Selected Shorts (NPR). She appeared in concert in Wall to Wall Broadway at Symphony Space and Bringing Broadway Back Home with Fort Collins Symphony. Original songs available at

HELEN JEAN RUSSELL (Co-Deviser/Original Cast) grew up making music. After relocating from a small town in Maryland to New York City, she switched her focus to acting, which led to producing variety shows featuring The City Singers, an a capella choir that she co-founded and directed. Russell was part of Woody Suez’s 2007 debut in Edinburgh, as well as subsequent tours throughout the U.K. and Europe, the American debut at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, the Arts Theatre in London's West End, and at American Repertory Theater in Boston. At home in Manhattan, she works as an actor, musical director and publishing technology consultant. In 2012 she was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, Best Lead Actress for her work in Woody Sez. Her debut CD, Holly Days, was released in 2008, and she is at work on a second. “Her voice, pure and supple, handed down through generations, recalls the rich and rolling piedmont of her native home.”

NICK CORLEY (Director/Co-Deviser) made his London West End, Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. directing debuts with Woody Sez, which he also co-wrote. (Helen Hayes and Evening Standard “Best Musical” award nominations.) He has directed many world premieres including Woody Sez for Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the New York City productions of Tall Grass; Flight (Callaway Award Nomination); About Face (New York Music Theatre Festival nomination, Best Direction); Fables in Slang; Tim and Scrooge; The Overcoat;  and Tallboy Walking.’ Regional premieres include The Civil War (co-directed at Houston’s Alley Theatre); A Young Lady of Fashion (Fulton Opera House — also co-author); and Eliot Ness … in Cleveland (Denver Center Theatre — also a co-author). As former artistic director of Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, he directed Sweeney Todd, The Music Man, The Who’s Tommy, and Steel Magnolias. Other directing credits include The Bomb-itty of Errors (Adirondack Theatre Festival and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis — four Kevin Kline nominations); Mother Russia (Carnegie Hall); The Little Foxes (Fulton Opera House); and The Robber Bridegroom, Droid, Man of La Mancha, Bat Boy, A Little Night Music and Lucky Stiff, all for The Commons Group in Vermont. He has directed over 100 workshops and readings, many of them for New York University’s graduate musical theatre writing program. His appearances as a performer include The Mystery of Edwin Droid, Mary Pippins, A Christmas Carol and She Loves Me on Broadway; off-Broadway; regional theatre; the film Kissing Jessica Stein; recordings; and television.

Ticket Information
Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie will take place Sept. 13 – Oct. 6, 2013 in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.  Tickets range in price from $45-$72 each.  Students under the age of 24 with a valid ID will be offered a special $15 ticket price.  To order single tickets please call 216-241-6000 or visit  Groups of 10+ save up to 40% off single ticket prices; call 216-400-7027 or email

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