BULLET REVIEW: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, at the Belasco Theatre
When I was on my feet sending love to the wonderful cast of “Girl From the North Country”, our seats were close enough to catch more than a few tears on actor’s faces clearly overwhelmed with the raw emotion of being back on Broadway.
It’s a musical but not really. Coner McPherson’s play, set in 1934 Duluth, Minn, 7 years before Dylan was born there, is a story of lives and spirits broken by the Depression, who find themselves in a rooming house, that is about to be lost to the bank.
Offering blessed relief from the misery unfolding on stage, cast members step out of character and reveal themselves to be world-class vocalists and musicians performing Dylan’s magnificent poetry.
Backed by a violin, bass fiddle, piano and drums, the musical breaks were so remarkable that I was a little sad each time the performers returned to reinhabit their desperately sad, yet engaging characters.
The music is blended into the drama with the help of artful staging that allows the cast to float in and out of a variety of formats sometimes singing as a chorus in front of standing microphones or in a back to character duet.
In a traditional musical a lyricist and composer collaborate to create songs which drive the narrative. Here selections from Dylan’s body of work are inserted successfully into the unfolding stories of shattered lives as if an artist holding a brush and palette periodically stepped onto the stage to dab the emerging canvas with an array of mournful colors.
The storyline connections to Dylan’s work are metaphorically rooted in his classic,1963 heartbroken remembrance of a lost love from Minnesota-the girl “who once was a true love of mine”.
McPherson chose not to set the story in the Minnesota of 1941 when Dylan was born but in the richer emotional landscape of the early 1930’s. It’s 1934 but the lyrics of Dylan’s “Sign in the Window” , written in 1970, fit seamlessly;
Sign in the window says “lonely”
Sign on the door says “no company allowed”
Sign on the street says “you don’t own me
Sign in the porch says “threes a crowd”
Austin Scott, who played the lead role in Hamilton for two years, gives a powerful performance as a boxer, with a proverbial “one-way ticket to palookaville”. In another interesting, if thin, storyline connection, Scott, sings “Hurricane” Dylan’s 1976 tribute to Ruben “Hurricane” Carter.
This production was a successful joy because of the megawatt talent on stage enhanced by the writing of a guy who won the Nobel prize for poetry in 2016 and then no-showed for the award ceremony.
I have a memory from a documentary about Dylan in which one of his studio musician’s said “God didn’t just touch Dylan — he came down and kicked him in the ass”.