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How ‘Girl From the North Country’ Reimagines Bob Dylan’s Music for the Stage

February 27, 2020 by Suzy Evans
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When you see “Girl From the North Country,” don’t expect a bio-musical about the iconic songwriter and Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan. In fact, you probably won’t even hear that many of his hit songs. Don’t worry, “Make You Feel My Love” and “Hurricane” are in there, but you might not recognize them at first in their new arrangements.

When playwright and director Conor McPherson began thinking of how he would theatricalize Dylan’s immense catalogue, he imagined a sweeping Eugene O’Neill style play, where the songs punctuated and heightened the action. As a result, “Girl From the North Country” was born.

“He just goes wherever the muse takes him, so the catalog is absolutely fascinating,” McPherson told TodayTix about Dylan’s style. “It’s vast. It’s always powered by an amazing fuel of imagination. We have songs from across five decades in this show and probably only about three or four songs that were hits on the charts. The rest are what we call, deep cuts. I would be hopeful that people will come out and go, ‘I really want to get into some Bob Dylan albums’ because there’s songs in here that I never heard before.”

Set in a Depression era boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota (Dylan’s hometown), the musical follows a rollicking and unlikely community of boarders and a family struggling to keep their business afloat, all searching for comfort and meaning during difficult times.

We chatted with the cast of “Girl From the North Country” about how the show will appeal to Dylan fans, musical theater fans, and everyone in between.

“It’s not a jukebox musical; it’s a play with the music of Bob Dylan so you’re getting everything. There’s some people who don’t like plays, but you have a play with music, so you’re going to to get that music aspect. There’s some people who don’t like musicals, but they like plays, so you’re going to get that play aspect with a little music. And then there’s some people who just don’t like theater at all. They just like movies. And this is what it is. It’s basically a movie with a soundtrack. So we have something for everybody.” – Jeanette Bayardelle, Mrs. Neilsen

“This show is a real gift for Dylan fans. We’re not recreating the albums, so they can’t pick apart what we’re not doing right…I think they walk away feeling like they got to examine his songs in a new way because we’re not trying to recreate something and falling short. We’d fall short if we’re just like, ‘Let’s make it sound just like the album.'” – Todd Almond, Elias Burke

“It is a new thing. When I go to see a play and it’s new or a musical, like ‘The Band’s Visit,’ if there’s something new to my ears and my eyes, I just get really excited about it. So I think our musical is something new.” – Mare Winningham, Elizabeth Laine

“Whether you’re super familiar with Dylan’s music or not, at its heart, [the show] is about hope and love and survival and resilience. It’s just group of people doing their best when they’ve been dealt difficult cards and just trying to make the best out of that circumstances. No matter who you are, no matter whether you’re coming to it as a theater fan or as a Dylan fan or just as a newcomer in general, you’re going to find something to relate with, to connect with, and to resonate with.” – Austin Scott, Joe Scott

“It’s special how you see someone dealing with something like the Great Depression but then you see their humanity, as well. Yes they’re perilous times, but we also still laugh and we still love and we still get in fights with our spouses and yell at our kids to do their homework. There’s still a lot of life underneath all of that turmoil, and I think that’s hopeful for an audience to watch because it shows that we’re all in pursuit of the same things.” – Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Marianne Laine

“It’s always been my belief that, as a country, when we are at our worst, that’s when we are at our best. And the beauty of Dylan was that he was in touch with that through his love for Woody Guthrie in the ’30s and the ’40s. And so anyone who is a Dylan fan, they’re a Dylan fan because they’re in touch with that as well. So whether or not they go to the theater, this is something that they will connect with. Anyone, from anywhere, in this country will connect with the show because it is about them. The play’s about connection, which is something that I think we hunger for right now.” – Marc Kudisch, Mr. Burke

“When you go see a piece of theater, you want to walk out a little bit different than you walked in — changed or thinking about something that you hadn’t thought about before. And I feel like what our show does really well is: there are so many different stories that are completely different, but that speak to our audience in different ways. And it might bring up something in them that’s uncomfortable, or something that’s foreign to them, a feeling that they haven’t felt in a long time.” – Caitlin Houlihan, Kate Draper

“It really is this new wave, new thing. If you’re going in trying to expect something traditional, or not, I think no matter what, you’re going to have your expectations subverted, and that’s what makes it so, to me, so inclusive and multi generational. Get anyone and everyone to see it, because whatever it is, they’re going to have an experience with it.” – Colton Ryan, Gene Laine