Girl from the North Country (musical)

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Girl from the North Country
MusicBob Dylan
LyricsBob Dylan
BookConor McPherson
SettingDuluth, Minnesota, 1934
Productions2017 London
2017 West End
2018 Off-Broadway
2019 Toronto

Girl from the North Country is a musical with a book by Conor McPherson using the songs of Bob Dylan.

Productions[edit]

The play premiered at The Old Vic, in London running from 8 July to 7 October 2017, directed by McPherson.

Following the success of The Old Vic production, the played 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 production will make its North American premiere Off-Broadway at The Public Theater in New York from September 11 to December 9, 2018.[1]

Following its Off-Broadway run, the production will transfer to the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto from February to March 2019.[2]

Plot[edit]

Duluth, Minnesota, a city on the shores of Lake Superior. It's the winter of 1934 and America is in the grip of the Great Depression.

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.[3]

Bob Dylan's songs[edit]

Nineteen Bob Dylan songs are performed by the cast throughout the play. 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 [4] and double vinyl in December 2017.

Songs include:

A 25-track, 2CD 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.

Reception[edit]

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." [5]

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." [6]

The Evening Standard called it "Beguiling and soulful and quietly, exquisitely, heartbreaking. This is, in short, a very special piece of theatre." [7]

The Sunday Express hailed the show as "A tribute and a triumph" and The Times declared it "An instant classic." [8]

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."[9]

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." [10]

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."[11]

The Times awarded the play five stars calling it "a show that transports the soul."[12]

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."[13]

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."[14]

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."[15]

Cast and characters[edit]

Character The Old Vic (2017) West End (2017) The Public Theater (2018)
Marianne Laine Sheila Atim Kimber Sprawl
Dr. Walker Ron Cook Adam James Robert Joy
Mrs. Burke Bronagh Gallagher Luba Mason
Elizabeth Laine Shirley Henderson Mare Winningham
Nick Laine Ciarán Hinds Stephen Bogardus
Katherine Draper Claudia Jolly Caitlin Houlahan
Joe Scott Arinzé Kene Sydney James Harcourt
Mrs. Neilsen Debbie Kurup Jeannette Bayardelle
Mr. Perry Jim Norton Karl Johnson Tom Nelis
Gene Laine Sam Reid Colton Ryan
Reverend Marlowe Michael Shaeffer Tim McMullan David Pittu
Elias Burke Jack Shalloo Todd Almond
Mr. Burke Stanley Townsend David Ganly Marc Kudisch

Awards and nominations[edit]

Original London production[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee Result Ref
2018 WhatsOnStage Awards Best Original Cast Recording Nominated [16]
Best Supporting Actress in a Play Sheila Atim Nominated
Laurence Olivier Awards Best New Musical Nominated [17]
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

References[edit]

  1. ^ Clement, Olivia (18 July 2018). "Marc Kudisch, Mare Winningham, Samantha Marie Ware, More Tapped for Girl From the North Country at The Public". Playbill. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
  2. ^ Dylan musical added to Mirvish Productions 2018-19 lineup in Toronto The Globe and Mail 26 February 2018 (retrieved 17 March 2018)
  3. ^ https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/girlfromthenorthcountry
  4. ^ https://www.amazon.co.uk/North-Country-Original-London-Recording/dp/B0754ZY8ND
  5. ^ Girl from the North Country review – Dylan's songs are Depression-era dynamite, by Michael Billington, in the Guardian; published July 27, 2017; retrieved November 3, 2017
  6. ^ https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/girl-from-the-north-country-old-vic-review-a7863891.html
  7. ^ https://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/theatre/girl-from-the-north-country-review-bob-dylans-songs-heard-anew-in-magnificent-haunting-show-a3597281.html
  8. ^ https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2017/girl-north-country-3/reviews
  9. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/jul/30/girl-from-the-north-country-mosquitoes-cat-hot-tin-roof-review-sienna-miller-conor-mcpherson
  10. ^ https://variety.com/2017/legit/reviews/bob-dylan-musical-review-girl-from-the-north-country-1202508546/
  11. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/jan/17/girl-from-the-north-country-bob-dylan-london-theatre
  12. ^ https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/theatre-review-girl-from-the-north-country-at-the-noel-coward-theatre-wc2-dldm3hv9v
  13. ^ https://www.ft.com/content/c3636b48-f9f1-11e7-9b32-d7d59aace167
  14. ^ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/girl-north-country-noel-coward-theatre-review-magical-fusion/
  15. ^ https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/theatre/907831/Girl-From-The-North-Country-review-Conor-McPherson-Shirley-Henderson-Debbie-Kurup
  16. ^ "Winners of the 18th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards announced: David Tennant and Olivia Colman win". Retrieved 2018-05-20.
  17. ^ "Olivier Awards 2018: the winners in full". The Stage. 2018-04-08. Retrieved 2018-05-20.