Everything you need to know about 'Girl From the North Country' on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre
The Bob Dylan jukebox musical finally opens on Broadway.
In the summer of 2017, Conor McPherson’s masterpiece Girl From the North Country received its world premiere at The Old Vic in London. It's almost 4,000 miles away from the show’s setting of Duluth, Minnesota, where Bob Dylan grew up. Bob Dylan's greatest hits are uniquely showcased in this production which is now officially open at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. The gently devastating masterpiece has been captivating Bob Dylan aficionados and keen theatregoers alike there since February 7, 2020.
Find out more about Girl From the North Country on Broadway below.
What’s the story of Girl From the North Country?
Perhaps better described as “a play with music” rather than your typical jukebox musical, Girl from the North Country is set in 1934 in the midst of the Great Depression in Duluth, Minnesota. The story takes place in a guesthouse inhabited by a collection of wayward souls, some passing and some permanent. At the centre of the piece we meet the down-on-his-luck guesthouse proprietor Nick Laine, his wife Elizabeth (riddled with a form of dementia), his alcohol-soaked son Gene and his nineteen year old, adopted, black daughter Marianne, who is also pregnant.
The Depression has taken its toll on those that dwell in the guesthouse and desperate times call for desperate measures. Nick tries to strike a deal with a much older citizen of Duluth, Mr. Perry, to marry off his adopted daughter, whilst he struggles with Elizabeth’s condition and Gene’s inability to find a job and earn a living. The supporting cast of characters includes a formerly incarcerated boxer striving to get back on his feet and make a comeback, a suspicious bible-flogging reverend, the Burke family and their feeble-minded son, and the widow Mrs. Neilsen, Nick’s not-so-secret lover. Each of these colorful personalities is in search of their own way out of this real-life purgatory, by any means necessary.
Who was in the original cast of Girl From the North Country on Broadway?
Mare Winningham played Elizabeth Laine, with Jeanette Bayardelle as Mrs Neilsen. Discover more about Jeanette Bayardelle in Girl From the North Country here.
Austin Scott played Joe Scott, with Kimber Elayne Sprawl as Marianne. But despite these standouts, Girl from the North Country is truly an ensemble piece that relies on the emotional and spiritual connection of its cast members, completed by Todd Almond, Caitlin Houlahan, Robert Joy, Marc Kudisch, Luba Mason, Matt McGrath, Tom Nelis, Colton Ryan, and Jay O. Sanders as Nick Laine.
Why should I see Girl From the North Country on Broadway?
In a review of Girl From the North Country for New York Theatre Guide, "It’s clear that Girl just doesn’t wanna have fun. It digs deeper and gets darker and is very affecting. By the conclusion, thanks to the story of one young couple, there’s just enough light for a glimmer of hope. The end is a beginning."
Unlike some of the jukebox musicals of the modern era that lyrically shoehorn well-established songs into an original narrative, writer and director Conor McPherson uses Bob Dylan’s songs primarily to enhance the atmosphere on stage or as musical interludes. There is no desperate necessity to force songs in as a device to somehow vaguely further the narrative. He also uses the periodically clunky theatrical device of a narrator to great effect by using a supporting character (Dr. Walker) to break the fourth wall and guide us through the plethora of personalities onstage, lest we become lost in the web of story arcs.
The wealth of actor-musicians on stage is astounding, all playing typical instruments from the 1930s and organically coming together in seemingly spontaneous jam sessions that make you believe all of Dylan’s hits were written during that period. And speaking of the hits, be prepared for around twenty renditions of Dylan classics from “Slow Train” to “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Hurricane” to “Idiot Wind” and from the titular song to “Forever Young.”
McPherson’s Depression-era story has just enough glimmers of hope within it to ensure the piece isn’t too… well, depressing. The emotionally impactful moments of the ‘musical’ are heightened by Simon Hale’s poignant orchestrations and arrangements and it’s these moments that provide perhaps the main takeaways of Girl from the North Country.
Who would we recommend Girl From the North Country to?
Bob Dylan fans that have yet to experience these beautiful new takes on their idol’s greatest hits will surely not be disappointed. But for theatregoers who are unfamiliar with the icon’s back catalogue, we’d recommend Girl from the North Country to anyone who has enjoyed Broadway classics the likes of The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, Death of a Salesman and A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, or A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. If you enjoy a drama, you'll love Girl From the North Country.
When is Girl From the North Country reopening on Broadway?
Girl From the North Country is reopening at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway from Oct. 13, 2021. Girl From the North Country will continues its Broadway run, cut short a month in due to the pandemic. will be the first Broadway show to reopen since the Coronavirus pandemic forced theatres to close in March 2020. Find out more about Girl From the North Country on Broadway here.
(Photos by Matthew Murphy)