Girl from the North Country

Sneak-peak photos & videos are available here.
Three reasons you’ll enjoy this musical even if you’re not into Dylan!

By Andrew Andrews

The new Broadway production of Girl from the North Country weaves the songs of Bob Dylan through the story of a Depression-era boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota, where a disparate group of desperate souls struggle with personal problems and a way of life that’s slipping out from under them.

One of the boarders is waiting for an inheritance that never comes, another couple has lost their home attending to a mentally-challenged adult son, and the late-night arrival of two travelers further creates a disturbance.

The bank is about to foreclose on the owner as his wife loses her sanity, his adopted daughter prepares for an unplanned pregnancy, and his alcoholic son fumbles through addiction.

I’ve never been a fan of Bob Dylan, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a musical based on his work, which spans six decades.

Surprisingly, I think I enjoyed the production even more than I would if I was a fan. Here’s why:

  1. Each song has been arranged to lend it a more soulful sound than the original recording possessed. Most numbers are performed at least partly by the ensemble, adding even more depth to the music through their harmonies.
  2. Unlike Jagged Little Pill, where the plot felt contrived both to accommodate the songs of Alanis Morissette and appeal to the demographics of her fan base, theres’s only a loose connection here between the story and the music. Dylan’s lyrics, sung with clarity and depth, unquestionably add value to the show, but alternates of equal quality could easily be swapped-in without causing any confusion.
  3. While a true Dylan fanatic might consider the treatment of his music to be messing with perfection or fixing something that isn’t broken, an outsider like me brings no anticipation into the theatre about how the numbers should be delivered. If you’re expecting a tribute or cover band you’ll be let down, but if you’re open to reinterpretation, you’re in for a real treat.

When I got home from the show I listened to Dylan’s original versions of the 21 songs used in the production, thinking I might enjoy them more, having heard them performed live and with context. But the truth was, I’m still not a fan of Bob Dylan, although I might buy the show’s soundtrack.

Although my partner and I agreed that Girl from the North Country isn’t as compelling as A Soldier’s Play or as much fun as the off-Broadway musical Romeo & Bernadette, the story, portrayal, production value—and yes, even the songs and music—easily satisfies a much broader audience than Dylan’s tremendous fan base.

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Andrew Andrews attended Girl from the North Country at Belasco Theatre in New York on Thursday, February 27, 2020 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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