About the Play

Projection Design, Phillip Jung, 1988.


Original Version:

Cast - 3 men, 2 women

Band - 3 to 4 musicians, covering guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, bass

Expanded Version:

Cast - 6 men, 4 women


Woody Guthrie's American Song is an ensemble musical theater piece adapted from the songs and writings of "America's premiere folk poet." The show uses Guthrie's storytelling to create narrative contexts for his music: the song "Bound For Glory" is sung in a crowded freight car heading west in the 1930s, a scene vividly described in Guthrie's autobiography. (To read this scene, see "Script Sample" under "rights" tab.) Another scene from his book, which takes place in a camp for migrant workers in Redding, California in 1938, becomes the setting for an evening of shared songs and stories. Throughout the play, the importance of music in helping people find meaning in their lives is always at the fore.

No one actor plays Woody Guthrie - this piece is not intended to be an impersonation of Woody or a traditional biography. In fact, every member of the ensemble takes on the first person perspective at some point in the piece. Woody believed that his works were best heard coming from the people around him, and Woody Guthrie's American Song takes that philosophy to heart.  

The script is available in two versions: the original, written for 5 actor/singers and 3-4 musicians, and the expanded version, the same material adapted for 10 actor/singers. The line between "musician" and "actor" is a soft one. The script suggests that at least two of the men in the acting company be able to play guitar well, and that one of the women have basic guitar skills, and this is preferred. But those recommendations are flexible, depending on the concept for individual productions, and the skills of the available actors. The band, however should include accomplished musicians, preferably with experience in bluegrass.