"It started with Hank Williams," says Randy Noojin of his affinity for one-man shows about late, great American singer-songwriters. Noojin, an experienced actor who's spent most of his career performing in off-Broadway, off-off Broadway, and television shows, realized that one-man shows where he gets to use his other talent — singing and playing music — are actually a lot of fun. So, he took the concept and toured with it, starting with Hank Williams: Lost Highway, then moving on to Hard Travelin' with Woody, about, of course, singer-songwriter, Woody Guthrie.
And now, for this year's Piccolo Spoleto festival, Noojin is Pete Seeger in the aptly titled, Seeger. "I'm a left-hearted person," says Noojin. "I toured Woody for five years — it's kinda like preaching." The backdrop of Seeger falls in line with this idea of preaching, set at a multimedia benefit concert in Washington, D.C., advocating free speech in Cuba.
While the show is set during the actual year of this event, 1982, Noojin says that its message is timely. "It became increasingly more relevant after the election," says Noojin. "The show is set in the '80s on the cusp of the Carter/Reagan transition. Obama to Trump is similar; it's a giant step to the right."
Noojin's political leanings aren't the only thing that inform his shows — he really does embody the men he plays. For Seeger, Noojin got a high quality fake beard to match the folksinger's. He also learned to play the banjo, which, impressive on its own, is even more notable when Noojin adds that he took banjo lessons in the same place in New York that Seeger took lessons many years ago.
"Pete cares about free speech and environmental issues. He was involved before people were talking about the environment — he was a front runner," says Noojin. So, yes Charleston, you can expect to hear Pete Seeger, err, Randy Noojin, get a little political in his Piccolo performance. In fact, that's kind of what it's all about. "I need the audience," says Noojin of Seeger's setting at the D.C. benefit concert. "Pete's talking to someone who cares. I talk to people as if they don't know him, because, at the concert, half of the audience is Cuban."
"He talks about how he's struggled as a way of giving hope to Cuban people. Pete sang for hope," he says. After Obama's moves to restore relations with Cuba, Noojin wonders if Trump-era policies will affect the countries' relationship. "Trump could take a step back. Or he could open hotels down there," he says. If you're wondering if Noojin sometimes gets negative responses to his show, the answer is yes. "I've seen some bristling," he laughs.
But Noojin doesn't mind a little good-humored resistance to his show — he's singing in favor of free speech, after all. "The right needs free speech. When Ann Coulter got shut down (this past April at UC Berkeley, due to student protests), that was silly," says Noojin. "The right has as much of a stake."
Political or not, Seeger is also about the really great music the famed folksinger is best known for — songs like "If I Had A Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." "The audience must sing with me," says Noojin. "Social justice songs are meant to move people."