One Man, Many Faces: Woody Guthrie speaks through one actor’s passion

One Man, Many Faces: Woody Guthrie speaks through one actor’s passion

Randy Noojin’s reasons for writing and presenting a one-man tribute to Woody Guthrie are as multi-faceted as the show he has created.

“No one captures Woody’s indomitable life-affirming spirit quite so believably as Indiana-born, New York actor/singer/playwright Randy Noojin,” critic Ross Altman writes. “From a dozen different sources Noojin has created a finely woven tapestry of Woody’s life and all-but-vanished world, with the organizing thread being Woody’s own voice.”

In “Hard Travelin’ With Woody,” coming May 5 to the Faulkner Performing Arts Center at the University of Arkansas, Noojin plays guitar and harmonica and sings, of course. But that’s just the beginning. He also shares video and vintage photos of the world events that shaped the 1930s and images of the artwork Guthrie created.

“Randy Noojin’s Woody seems haunted, obsessed by and determined to rise above the poverty that was forced upon him and his generation of ‘Okies,’” Altman describes. “He builds this on the small and finely etched portraits of the people — the old-timers, farmers, settlers, mothers, fathers and children, union organizers, hobos and yes, the bankers, he met along the way — to end on a resilient ‘note of hope.’”

Those, Noojin says, are the factors that make his performance as Guthrie unique, but he admits the underpinnings are probably also unique to him. An actor by training and education, he didn’t become politically motivated until Sept. 11, 2001. That, he says, is when he began to connect the dots between issues like poverty to politics.

“I began to care a lot more about who the president is,” he says.

Noojin’s career as an actor started in a high school theater program in Indiana and grew through a Master of Fine Arts in performance from Arizona State University, followed by a Master of Fine Arts in playwriting from the University of Iowa. He’s appeared in everything from “Boardwalk Empire” and “Royal Pains” on television to indie film to Circle Repertory Theatre in New York, where he also wrote and saw his work produced.

It was three different productions of “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” that seduced Noojin into writing a one-man show.

“My parents were from Alabama, so I grew up on Hank Williams,” he says, “and this finally got me on stage with a guitar. I started realizing ‘Boy, is this fun!’”

Noojin started to look for other “nontraditional musicals” — “they had to be in my field of folk music and country music; I don’t do Broadway musicals” — and through his interest in Bob Dylan, he discovered Woody Guthrie.

“Bob Dylan was a huge Woody Guthrie fan, and he absolutely imitated Woody for the first year of his career,” Noojin says. “And I guess on some level if Bob Dylan became Bob Dylan by pretending to be Woody Guthrie, I hope it’ll work out for me. Maybe if you walk in a person’s footsteps, it can’t help but give you direction.”

In the six years since Noojin started performing as Woody Guthrie, he’s visited colleges and universities, libraries and union conventions, and most of his audiences have appreciated the effort — sometimes also on multiple levels. Guthrie, who died in 1967, is moving further from the public consciousness, Noojin says, so there are fans happy to see his music remembered and resurrected. Others appreciate the message.

“A lot of times it’s preaching to the converted, who already know Woody and that’s why they come,” he says. “But other people are really moved, and they comment on how unfortunate it is that it’s still relevant — that the rich are still getting richer, and the poor still getting poorer.”



‘Hard Travelin’ With Woody’

With Randy Noojin

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. May 5

WHERE — Faulkner Performing Arts Center at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville

COST — $10-$20

INFO — 575-5387


Categories: Entertainment, Music