By Naomi Serviss / New York City
There’s a bleak yet incandescent shimmer around the astonishing, recently resuscitated Broadway musical, Girl From the North Country.
Girl magnifies Depression era desperation with passionate covers of early catalogue Bob Dylan songs.
This is not a traditional jukebox musical, à la Cher, Tina, or Jersey Boys. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Girl puts a spell on the audience, transporting us to a dreamy abstraction of another dimension.
It’s a sometimes sad, often raucous, dream of muted colors, drab sets thrumming with hidden secrets that unfold throughout the show.
Irish dramatist Conor McPherson, three-time Tony nominee, wrote the libretto and directed the original musical with a deftly tender touch.
Dylan’s songs like you’ve never heard them sung. It moved me to tears. And I’m a hardened New Yorker!
I’m getting softer in my dotage.
Songs in the play include:
The show is set in a 1934 Duluth, Minn. (Nobel-laureate Dylan’s hometown) boardinghouse.
It teems with woebegone boarders whose misfortunes are expressed through individual and ensemble tunes.
Nick Laine (the masterful Jay O. Sanders) is the proprietor of the time-worn establishment.
He’s nearly worn out himself.
Dylan’s musical artistry is amplified by the multi-talented baker’s dozen performers who command the stage.
It’s a masterwork.
Fleshed out characters sing solo and in ensemble. Choreography is pulse-racing. And
I couldn’t take my eyes off Mare Winningham, who portrays Nick’s comically demented wife Elizabeth. She should be charged with theft, as in stealing the show.
Winningham’s every gesture and raised eyebrow spoke volumes. Her character may be losing her marbles but her tongue speaks the unspoken, inconvenient truth.
Her flawless, enthusiastic dancing is smooth. She’s having fun! Her character is the most
enigmatic of them all.
No surprise that singer-songwriter Winningham has won two Prime Time Emmys, and was nominated for two Golden Globes and a Tony.
Winningham mesmerizes without upstaging her fellow actors.
If you were expecting a Dylan biography, you will be sorely disappointed.
But if you have even a passing interest in this poet’s formative years’ output, you might be as charmed and surprised as was I.
Girl is an homage to a genius who challenged social and musical norms and mores while simultaneously transforming the culture for decades.
There’s a lot to digest.
Surprisingly, the tunes don’t move the plot forward as much as depict a tender mood, reverential appeal, pseudo-passion for charity and forgiveness, overall.
The first iteration of Girl originated at London’s Old Vic in 2017. New York’s Public Theatre hosted it the following year.
It opened on Broadway March 5, 2020, to rave reviews. A week later, 41 Broadway and 62 off-Broadway and independent theaters shuttered.
Nineteen months later, in early October, Girl opened at the stately Belasco Theatre.
Possibly the most beautiful of the 41 Broadway theaters, the Belasco was built in 1907.
It’s one of my favorites. Not merely because of the Tiffany lighting, ceiling panels or expansive murals that hijack my imagination.
Don’t get me started on the curtains.
It’s a fascinating slice of theater history. And how the then-one percent lived.
Rumor has it the ghost of Belasco wanders the theater. I’m didn’t start it. Blame the grapevine.
The reason I prefer the Belasco is a women’s no-brainer.
When you descend the well-lit stairs, you will encounter the magnificent Ladies Lounge, which
includes a spiffy entryway and has enough stalls for all in need!
"The Girl From the North Country" is a not-to-be missed, ultimately uplifting show bathed in a nostalgic glow.
It's worth its weight in Playbills.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com