Thursday, February 1, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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This `American Song' Has An Upbeat Accent

``Woody Guthrie's American Song''; songs and writings by Woody Guthrie. Production conceived, adapted and directed by Peter Glazer; orchestrations and musical supervision by Jeff Waxman. Produced by the Seattle Repertory Theatre in the Poncho Forum at the Bagley Wright Theatre; through Feb. 18. Information: 443-2222.

To paraphrase one of Woody Guthrie's best known lyrics: This show was made for you and me.

``Woody Guthrie's American Song,'' which opened last night as part of the Seattle Rep's Stage 2 season, is an exuberant musical celebration of our nation, our history and our shared humanity, as expressed by one of our best balladeer/writers.

The piece also is a deft theatrical work devised and directed by Peter Glazer and brought to vigorous, toe-tapping, sing-along life by five wonderful actor/singers and a dynamite trio of instrumentalists. To all that add the deceptively simple scenic design by Philipp Jung, the striking lighting design by David Noling and the down-home costumes by Deborah Shaw, and you have an extraordinary evening of musical theater.

The show follows the life of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, who was born in Okemah, Okla., in 1912 and was one of the half million Okies who fled the Dust Bowl and trekked west in 1936. He called himself a balladeer, a folk singer and ``a clerk and tester of the climate.''

``The words,'' he said, ``are not my private property. I borrowed them from you.'' He traveled the nation, usually by hopping a freight train, and with a stub of a pencil wrote down in a five-cent notebook ``any little song that tells part of the story of our people.''

He wrote about and for the little guy, the oppressed, the people just down on their luck. He wrote about how strong we are, or could be, if we all joined together. He wrote of the hard times of the '30s and the '40s, and his songs are, alas, as resonant today as when he wrote them.

Woody's songs are an integral part of the fabric of America: ``Oklahoma Hills,'' ``Bound for Glory,'' ``Pastures of Plenty,'' ``Union Maid,'' ``Nine Hundred Miles,'' ``This Land Is Your Land.''

The songs are performed with skill - and obvious conviction and love - by performers who have been with the show previously, either in New York (where it had a workshop production two years ago) and/or in subsequent productions in New Hampshire, Detroit and Kansas City. It is booked to open in April at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. It is now, and will be then, a smash.

The actor/singers are Mimi Bessette, John Camera, Liz Corrigan, David Lutken and Scott Wakefield. The instrumentalists are Janis Carper, Geoff Wilke and Neil Woodward (who also serves as musical director).

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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