Just like Guthrie, producer knows 'Hard Travelin'

June 20, 1995|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Sun

Although Andrew Sachs is much too young to have lived through the Dust Bowl migrations that inspired some of Woody Guthrie's greatest folk songs, this 29-year-old has done his share of traveling from one regional theater to another across the American landscape.

"I have that little bit of identification with Woody Guthrie as I've gone from one city to another, [theater] season by season," says Mr. Sachs, who has held various theater production jobs. He grew up in Pikesville and lives in Baltimore, where he is serving as producer for a concert version of the musical biography "Woody Guthrie's American Song." The performance is Thursday 8 p.m. at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and benefits the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

The Guthrie show is a homecoming in more ways than one for Mr. Sachs: As a teen-ager, he ushered at the Meyerhoff, where his mother, Barbara Kristel, is the hall manager.

He attributes his interest in Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) to the folk singer's ability to imbue his songs with both social history and enduring appeal.

"I think Woody Guthrie documented several decades of American life, particularly the 1930s and '40s. He really captured that spirit," Mr. Sachs notes. "He took the words of the people and turned them into songs in order to inspire people and make the workers feel good about themselves. Audiences of all ages can sing along to his music."

The world of which Woody Guthrie sang is both of that time and timeless. That's why such songs as "Hard Travelin', " "Bound For Glory," "Nine Hundred Miles" and "This Land Is Your Land" work for anybody who has ever journeyed across the country and felt deeply connected to it.

The bond between Guthrie and the American people was what motivated Peter Glazer to adapt the folk legend's music and writings for "Woody Guthrie's American Song," which was first staged in 1988.

Mr. Glazer, who is directing the production at the Meyerhoff, was initially inspired by a sentence in one of Guthrie's collections of essays. From that simple sentence -- "I think back through my life to everybody that I owe" -- the director developed a show in which Guthrie acknowledges his creative debt to the many people he encountered as he performed around the country.

"Guthrie had a sense of what he learned from them as he traveled the land," Mr. Glazer, 42, says from his home north of Oakland, Calif. "His songs were his way of paying back the debt he felt he owed them. That idea of sharing and borrowing was very important to him."

The folksy rapport Guthrie had with his audience also prompted Mr. Glazer to make sure every word in the show comes directly from the folk singer's lyrics or autobiographical writings. And in the democratic spirit, the eight-member ensemble collectively presents the songs and narration.

"I wanted it to be an ensemble piece," Mr. Glazer says. "I'd heard his music done by the Weavers and by Peter, Paul and Mary. I believed the music would have more power when shared between [multiple] instruments and voices" -- thus the arrangements and orchestrations by Jeff Waxman.

"They share the narration, with everyone talking in the first person," Mr. Glazer continues. "I didn't want one person impersonating Woody Guthrie but wanted his voice to be spread around and shared by the people in the world he came in contact with. I took that notion literally.

"Also, the audience in the theater becomes the audience that Woody performed for in the work camps. There are speeches direct to the audience."

Mr. Glazer's interest in this material has biographical roots extending back to his father, folk singer Tom Glazer.

"My father was a contemporary of Woody's and performed with him in New York City in the 1940s and '50s," he says. "I never met Woody, but that music was a part of my world."

Adds Mr. Glazer: "Popular music has become fairly harsh, but there's a real sense of harmony and heart in Woody's music that's hard to resist."


What: "Woody Guthrie's American Song"

Where: Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

When: Thursday at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $50, $28 and $17

Call: (410) 783-8000

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