|Girl from the North Country|
|Setting||Duluth, Minnesota, 1934|
|Productions||2017 London |
2017 West End
2019 West End revival
Girl from the North Country is a musical with a book by Conor McPherson using the songs of Bob Dylan. It is the second Broadway show to use Dylan's music after Twyla Tharp's The Times They Are a-Changin'.
Following the success of The Old Vic production, it transferred into London's West End at the Noël Coward Theatre from 29 December 2017 for a limited 12-week run until 24 March 2018, with the majority of The Old Vic cast.
The show, featuring a new cast including Katie Brayben and Anna-Jane Casey, was mounted at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto from 28 September to 24 November 2019. Following this run, the production and cast transfered to London for a West End revival at the Gielgud Theatre from 10 December 2019 to 1 February 2020.
The story is narrated by Dr. Walker, physician to the Laine family. Nick Laine is the proprietor of a rundown guesthouse. The bank is threatening to foreclose on the property and he is desperate to find a way to save his family from homelessness. His wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from a form of dementia which propels her from catatonic detachment to childlike, uninhibited outbursts which are becoming difficult to manage. Their children are Gene, who is in his early twenties, and their adopted daughter, Marianne, who is nineteen.
Marianne is five months pregnant and the identity of the father is a mystery she guards carefully. Nick is trying to arrange a marriage between Marianne and a local shoe mender, Mr. Perry, in order to secure her future. The social awkwardness is complicated by the fact that Marianne is a black girl living with a white family. She was abandoned in the guesthouse as a baby and brought up by Nick and Elizabeth.
Gene is unable to get a grip on his life, and veers between ambitions of becoming a writer and debilitating alcohol binges, a situation not helped when his sweetheart, Kate, announces she is getting married to a man with better prospects.
Nick has become involved in a relationship with a resident of the guest house, Mrs. Neilsen, a widow who is waiting for her late husband's will to clear probate. They dream of a better future when her money comes through, although she scolds Nick for his constant pessimism.
Also staying at the house are a family, the Burkes. Mr. Burke lost his business in the crash. His wife, Laura, and his son, Elias, share a room upstairs. Elias has a learning disability and the family struggle to come to terms with their reduced state.
Late at night, during a storm, a self-styled reverend cum bible salesman, Marlowe, and a down-on-his-luck boxer, Joe Scott, arrive looking for shelter. The arrival of these characters is a catalyst, changing everything for everyone in the house.
Nineteen Bob Dylan songs are performed by the cast throughout the production. Each is backed by instruments from the 1930s. The Original London Cast Recording was made at Abbey Road in August 2017, and released by Silvertone/Sony Music on CD in September 2017 and double vinyl in December 2017.
A 25-track, 2 CD collection of songs taken from Bob Dylan's original studio albums, entitled The Music Which Inspired Girl From The North Country: The Original Bob Dylan Recordings, was released in January 2018.
In a five star review The Guardian described it as a "remarkable fusion of text and music", comparing its use of multiple storylines to Arthur Miller's The American Clock, and its narrator to Thornton Wilder's Our Town. "McPherson has created an astonishingly free-flowing production and the 19-strong cast, which includes three musicians, is so uniformly strong it is tough to pick out individuals. (They) use Bob's Dylan's back catalogue to glorious effect."
The Independent said "The idea is inspired and the treatment piercingly beautiful," adding that "Two formidable artists have shown respect for the integrity of each other's work here and the result is magnificent."
The Observer praised the play, calling it "One of the most transporting shows I have seen in years. I came away feeling that Dylan has been writing not a series of songs but an unfolding chronicle."
Variety called it "A loving homage with a neat turn of phrase and a tang in the air. When people sing, it's as if they pop the bonnets of their brains and let us look inside," concluding that "The blend slips down easy: enjoyable and soulful."
On the occasion of the West End transfer Richard Williams wrote in The Guardian "The great achievement of Girl from the North Country, Conor McPherson's musical based on the work of Bob Dylan, lies in the ability of the writer-director and his musical supervisor, Simon Hale, to find shades of meaning within some of the songs that would surely surprise even Dylan himself, a famously protean interpreter of his own creations."
A five star review from the Financial Times said "It's original, beautiful and moving, combining the starkness of Steinbeck with haunting lyricism to create something restless, desperate, hopeful and sad."
The Telegraph's five star review stated that "Not very often, a piece of theatre comes along that radiates an ineffable magic. Conor McPherson's musical play, which premiered at the Old Vic last year and now transfers to the West End, and which draws on heavily reworked versions of familiar and obscure Bob Dylan songs, is one such show. It's not a perfect piece by any means, but the rare alchemy with which McPherson fuses a dustbowl drama set in Depression-era Minnesota with the keening mysticism of Dylan's back catalogue makes it almost glow."
The Sunday Express awarded the transfer five stars, saying "Bob Dylan's songs are so emotive and intense that they might well have overwhelmed the action. It's greatly to McPherson's credit that Girl From The North Country is such a compelling drama in its own right. McPherson has written a subtle and touching play about small town lives in middle America in the 1930s. The Great Depression has entered the very bones of the drifters and fugitives who end up in Nick's boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota. I hailed this show on its premiere last autumn. This well-deserved transfer should not be missed. It's the most powerful, affecting and original musical in London. And, yes, that includes Hamilton."
|Character||The Old Vic (2017)||West End (2017)||The Public Theater (2018)||Toronto/West End Remount (2019)||Broadway (2020)|
|Marianne Laine||Sheila Atim||Kimber Sprawl||Gloria Obianyo||Kimber Sprawl|
|Dr. Walker||Ron Cook||Adam James||Robert Joy||Ferdy Roberts||Robert Joy|
|Mrs. Burke||Bronagh Gallagher||Luba Mason||Anna Jane Casey||Luba Mason|
|Elizabeth Laine||Shirley Henderson||Mare Winningham||Katie Brayben||Mare Winningham|
|Nick Laine||Ciarán Hinds||Stephen Bogardus||Donald Sage Mackay||Jay O. Sanders|
|Katherine Draper||Claudia Jolly||Caitlin Houlahan||Gemma Sutton||Caitlin Houlahan|
|Joe Scott||Arinzé Kene||Sydney James Harcourt||Shaq Taylor||Austin Scott|
|Mrs. Neilsen||Debbie Kurup||Jeannette Bayardelle||Rachel John||Jeannette Bayardelle|
|Mr. Perry||Jim Norton||Karl Johnson||Tom Nelis||Sidney Kean||Tom Nelis|
|Gene Laine||Sam Reid||Colton Ryan||Colin Bates||Colton Ryan|
|Reverend Marlowe||Michael Shaeffer||Tim McMullan||David Pittu||Finbar Lynch||Matt McGrath|
|Elias Burke||Jack Shalloo||Todd Almond||Steffan Harri||Todd Almond|
|Mr. Burke||Stanley Townsend||David Ganly||Marc Kudisch||David Ganly||Marc Kudisch|
|2018||WhatsOnStage Awards||Best Original Cast Recording||Nominated|||
|Best Supporting Actress in a Play||Sheila Atim||Nominated|
|Laurence Olivier Awards||Best New Musical||Nominated|||
|Best Actor in a Musical||Ciarán Hinds||Nominated|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Shirley Henderson||Won|
|Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical||Sheila Atim||Won|
|Outstanding Achievement in Music||Bob Dylan for composing and Simon Hale for orchestrating and arranging||Nominated|