The inspiration for Canadian actor Thomas Jones creating his prize-winning one-man show about Woody Guthrie, “Woody Sed,” originated with a chance comment in an e-mail from a friend.
“My friend saw a PBS documentary on Woody Guthrie in 2006 and mentioned that it would be a great topic for a live show. I went straight to a used-book store, bought a copy of Guthrie’s biography, ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ and started reading,” Jones said.
Jones, who studied acting in college with an emphasis on mime and mask work, thought he was already fairly well acquainted with the Depression-era folksinger’s work through his classic songs, such as “This Land Is Your Land” and “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.”
“But really I knew only about his hobo persona,” Jones said. “I was amazed to realize the scope of the times he lived through and the settings in which he found himself, from Oklahoma, where he was born one hundred years ago when it was a brand-new state, through the Depression and the Dust Bowl, into New York City, out to California to work with migrant workers, then on to joining the merchant marine in World War II.”
But more than just the biographical details of Guthrie’s life, what struck Jones as fascinating were the emotional nuances.
“I think Woody’s son Arlo had it right when he described the tragic, complicated story of Woody’s life by saying, ‘It’s Shakespearean. Only Shakespeare could write something like that,’ ” Jones said. “His life story really grabbed me — heart-wrenching, inspiring, baffling. That context makes his work all the more immediate and relevant to life today.”
Jones will be performing his play at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Amazing Things Arts Center, 160 Hollis St. in downtown Framingham. The title is a twist on “Woody Sez,” the regular column that Guthrie wrote for the Daily Worker, a newspaper published by the Communist Party USA, in 1939 and 1940.
“What I tried to do was provide a concise picture of his entire life. I want people to understand from this what a prolific artist he was. Whatever in his life he was going through, he expressed through prose or music,’’ he said.
Even in the throes of Huntington’s disease, Jones said of Guthrie, “as long as he remained physically able to write, he did. He generated tens of thousands of pages of prose, hundreds of drawings, the dozens of songs familiar to us but also some that were never published.”
Jones, who is 47 years old, read nine more books about Guthrie’s life after the one that first sparked his interest. He made use of Library of Congress song recordings and interviews that Alan Lomax conducted with Guthrie in the early 1940s.
“I cobbled a very large amount of material together, and then it was a matter of choosing what to use and finding a framework. The show has a bookended structure. It starts at the end of his life in the hospital, almost like a memory play. I sent the script to a friend, who eventually became the director, and he said, ‘This is a two-hour show.’ So we had to do a lot more editing to bring it down to 90 minutes.”
“Woody Sed,” in which Jones portrays 25 characters to tell the complete story of Guthrie’s life, debuted at the Canadian Fringe Festival. Jones then took it to the Push International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, his hometown, followed by performances at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in July. Along the way, the play gained two Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominations, and then Jones delivered its American debut in Vermont this fall.
“I want the audience to come away from the performance with a deeper sense of who Woody Guthrie was and what his place in history was,” Jones said. “He was really the father of American folk music. I want people to understand what a massive influence he has on the music we now take for granted. But I also want to convey a sense of his inner strength and his struggle to live.”
Tickets for “Woody Sed” are $18, discounted to $17 for seniors and students, $15 for Amazing Things members and $9 for ages 11 and younger. They are available online at www.amazingthings.org or by calling 508-405-2787.
INTERACTIVE POPPINS: The ever-popular “Sing-along Mary Poppins” returns this weekend to the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St. in Arlington.
The interactive version of the popular Disney film musical features onscreen lyrics, play-along props, and an audience costume parade, plus Mary Poppins impersonator Linda Peck as master of ceremonies and movie host.
Performances are scheduled for Friday at 10:30 a.m., 2 and 7 p.m.; Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and children, and $10 for Regent members and groups of 10 or more. For tickets, directions, and more information, call 781-646-4849 or go to www.regenttheatre.com.
ANNIE OAKLEY RETURNS: The Weston Friendly Society, a community theater group celebrating its 121st year, presents Irving Berlin’s Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun” the next two weekends.
Performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 1, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Weston Town Hall, 1 Townhouse Road. Tickets are $21 to $24, with a $3 discount for seniors and children under 12. For tickets, go to www.westonfriendly.org or call 781-893-9883.
ECLECTIC CANTORS: Four Argentinian cantors perform on stage together for the first time in “Jewish ArgenTenors in Concert,” Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward St. in Newton Centre.
The program includes Jewish world music mixed with works from a range of genres, such as opera, cantorial, Latin, Yiddish, Broadway, sephardic, tango, and humor. Tickets are $25, or $20 for students; call 617-558-8100 or go online to www.templeemanuel.com.
BEYOND THE CANON: For this Advent season, A Joyful Noyse, an early music ensemble in residence at Hancock Church in Lexington, will present a concert that will focus on a German composer who is known by almost all for his Canon in D, but whose other works have been rarely performed or recorded, as well as a piece by one of his sons.
Born in 1655 in Nuremberg, Johann Pachelbel was extremely popular and respected in his own lifetime. Considered to be the last of the great Baroque composers from southern Germany, he worked in many of the region’s music centers, including Vienna, but returned to the city of his birth to spend the last years of his career, 1695 to 1706.
A number of interesting connections between Boston and Pachelbel exist.
In 1940, the first recording of his incredibly popular Canon in D was made by Arthur Fiedler conducting his chamber musical ensemble, Sinfonietta. And in 1733, one of Pachelbel’s sons, Charles Theodore, was living in Boston, and helped install the organ at Trinity Church in Newport, R.I. Charles later moved to New York, where in 1736 he organized what is considered to be the city’s first public classical music concert.
On that groundbreaking program was Charles Pachelbel’s Magnificat for double choir, a work that will also be presented by A Joyful Noyse, in collaboration with the Three Rivers Chorus, directed by Ellen Oak, in its Advent program at 3 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Hancock Church, 1912 Massachusetts Ave. in Lexington.
The program will end with Johann Pachelbel’s grand “Lobet den Herrn,’’ a piece for chorus, soloists, and an orchestra consisting of strings, recorders, oboes, trumpets, trombones, harpsichord, and organ.
Parking is available at the rear of the church and there is handicapped access. The concert is free, but a donation of $10, to support the church’s music programs, will be accepted. For more information, go to www.hancockchurch.org.