Connecting to Our Country’s Past: A Conversation With the Cast of Woody Guthrie’s American Song

L to R: Jack French, Megan Storti, Sean Yael-Cox

L to R: Jack French, Megan Storti, Sean Yael-Cox

“One thing I think about each night is, how am I going to tell this story,” says Jack French, who is making his Intrepid debut on the stage of the Horton Grand Theatre in the current production of Woody Guthrie’s American Song. “Woody Guthrie was a guy who embodied that, who was all about telling the story. To him, that was paramount. For us, that’s the thing for figuring out this production.”

The rest of the cast agrees. Putting in long hours rehearsing Woody’s now legendary music, performing a full run and now in the middle of the show’s extended run has given them an intense familiarity with not only the musician, but the roads he travelled and, yes, the stories he told.

L to R: Sean Yael-Cox, Leonard Patton

L to R: Sean Yael-Cox, Leonard Patton

“This isn’t a typical musical,” says Sean Yael-Cox, Intrepid’s Artistic Director who plays the role of the “Folk Singer,” an expression of Woody Guthrie in his mid-life years. “This story is about people who actually used music in their everyday lives. There’s something about when people used to use music to connect to each other and to celebrate and to express their frustration. It’s about what music can do for the human soul.”

While that may sound hyperbolic, the fact is that every audience who experiences Woody Guthrie’s American Song can attest to the connective nature of this music. There is rarely a performance that doesn’t end in a standing ovation and a theatre-wide sing along, complete with clapping and toe-tapping.

L to R: Megan Storti, Jack French

L to R: Megan Storti, Jack French

“The music is already in us,” adds Megan Storti, also an Intrepid newcomer, who lends the soprano lilt to the cast’s five-part harmonies and strums a mean ukulele. “Even if you don’t recognize the titles of the songs, you already know the music. You innately feel you should know it. It’s a cathartic experience to sing these songs every night.”

In the midst of a crazy political season and a celebration of our national holiday, both cast members and audiences agree that it is important to get in touch with the roots of our country, the shared history that is explored in these songs.

Wendy McGuire, USAR (Ret.) and her mother, Blossom Sanger

Wendy McGuire, USAR (Ret.) and her mother, Blossom Sanger

“The hope, the history, the rebellious spirit, the triumph of the little guy over the big guy, something about folk music that is uniquely American,” writes Wendy McGuire, USAR (Ret.), in a review of the show for the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park about her experience singing Guthrie’s songs with other musicians while deployed. “These are all things that make Woody Guthrie so important and so very relevant to active military and veterans today. Hearing those songs got me through some really dark moments.”

“Woody Guthrie wrote way before anyone tried to make songs to sell them,” says Leonard Patton, who is playing the “Writer,” an embodiment of Guthrie in his last years of life. “These songs come out of real experiences, hard experiences. But they are all about moving on and keeping on. We are all affected by they went through in this country many years ago. We are a product of these stories.”

Karen Ann Daniels

Karen Ann Daniels

“That’s what is really cool about telling these stories now,” agrees Karen Ann Daniels, who, among many characters in the show, portrays a jaw-dropping saloon songstress. “There really is no music out there now that talks about these kinds of experiences. We are really removed from that part of our heritage. Doing this show moves us closer to those stories.”

“This music is not about solos or the singular experience,” agrees Megan. “It’s about the human experience.”

Woody Guthrie’s American Song plays through July 17 at the Horton Grand Theatre, 444 Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego.  Performs Thurs 7:30 pm, Fri 8 pm, Sat 4 pm and 8 pm, Sun 2 pm.
–Production Photos Credit: Daren Scott–

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