'Woody Sez'

Andy Teirstein, David M. Lutkin, Helen Russell and Darcie Deaville in a previous production of "Woody Sez." (TheaterWorks / August 5, 2014)

"Life's pretty tough," once said Woody Guthrie. "You're lucky if you live through it."

The American balladeer had a lot to say and to sing about, and much of it is captured in "Woody Sez," a show that begins previews at Hartford's TheaterWorks on Friday, Aug. 8, opens Aug. 15 and runs through Sept. 14.

Before Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and John Mellencamp, there was the Oklahoma-born Woody, "the Dust Bowl Troubadour," who traveled around the country in the '30s, '40s and '50s and sang about working men and women and transforming the folk ballad into a vehicle for social protest. Guthrie, the father of Arlo Guthrie, died from complications of Huntington's disease, a progressive genetic neurological disorder, at the age of 55 in 1967.

A cast of four — David Finch, David M. Lutken, Leenya Rideout, and Helen J. Russell — tell Guthrie's story and perform more than 25 of his classic songs. The show has had successful runs in London, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

TheaterWorks will also be offering free "hootenannies" with cast members after Sunday matinee performances of "Woody Sez" on Aug. 17, 24 and 31 and Sept. 7 and 14. (The hootenanny begins at approximately 4:45 p.m.) The free sing-along jam sessions invite anyone to participate by either playing an instrument, singing or just watching. Show attendance is not required. Information: 860-527-7838 and theaterworkshartford.org.