Interview: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY's Todd Almond Unpacks the Show-Stopping 'Duquesne Whistle'

Girl From the North Country has officially resumed performances at the Belasco Theatre.

By: Oct. 22, 2021

Girl From The North Country is pressing on with Broadway performances. The new show by playwright Conor McPherson reopened on October 13 at the Belasco Theatre, a year and a half after it first began performances in February 2020.

In the new musical, celebrated playwright Conor McPherson boldly reimagines the songs of the legendary Bob Dylan, creating a soaring masterwork about the dreams we keep close, the people we hold dear, and the place we call home. Girl from the North Country is the uplifting tale of wanderers standing at a turning point in their lives. As they search for a brighter future, and hide from the past, they discover that they all need the same thing in the present moment: each other.

While the musical is filled with beloved songs like "Forever Young" and "Like a Rolling Stone," one of its most exhilarating moments comes in Act II with a lesser-known Dylan song, "Duquesne Whistle," from his 2012 Tempest album.

In BroadwayWorld's new Showstoppers series, we're unpacking what goes into creating and performing some of Broadway's most ovation-worthy numbers. Below, Todd Almond, who performs the song eight times a week, goes in depth on Girl From the North Country's most show-stopping song.

Before we get into the song, can you tell me a bit about who you play and where "Duquesne Whistle" falls in your character's journey?

I play a character named Elias Burke, and I live with my parents in a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota during the depression. We have lost our home and we are, like most of the guests, at an in between place in our lives. It's a moment of struggle in the world and so we find a lot of the characters experiencing the same thing.

My character is a grown man with the mind of a very young child and he's unable to take care of himself. Without spoiling anything, the song arrives at a moment late in the show, where there's a surprising bit of transformation and change.

How well did you know this song before you joined this show?

I did not know the song. I've been a Bob Dylan fan through other artists my whole life. I've always loved certain covers of Bob Dylan. I knew some of his original recordings, but mostly other people singing his songs. But my first encounter with this show was at a reading at The Public Theater. I got the script and the song and I listened to recordings and was like, "Ok, what an amazing song I get to sing!" That was the first time I heard it.

I was immediately taken by the mythology of the song. I think that's something Dylan does so well. He's always mining this American experience. His songs can be such riddles! They draw you in. I got really lost in it. It was then that I knew I had to do a deeper dive into Bob Dylan.

I also didn't know this song before seeing the show...

Have you seen the music video? You'll think about it for days! It only deepens the mystery.

This really is your character's big moment in the show... when you're on stage do you feel like it's all leading up to this point? Is there a lot of anticipation?

As an actor, yes! I'm always offstage stretching. Or going off the the bathroom to sing the high notes [Laughs]! I try not to stress, because that doesn't help. I really enjoy watching the show every night from backstage, but when I'm not performing, I'm offstage doing all the annoying singer stuff. And I'm offstage for so long before this song that there is quite a lead up.

Is it vocally challenging for you or are you at a point that the song lives in you?

I'm grateful that it forces me to try to be in a really healthy vocal place. Yeah, it's one of those gifts of a song that tests your edge. It definitely keeps you on your toes. It's the kind of challenge like doing a race if you're a runner. It's what you train for, but it's still the moment. I have to access all of my training to do it.

What is your mindset going into the song?

I try to live in a place of not making it about me. I try to shut up and get out of the way and just do the show. Do the moment and not make it about me. It's hard to get out of the way. I really try to step aside from my own neuroses.

What do you hope it makes the audience feel? It's such a powerful moment...

One of the things I love about Conor's writing and about this moment is that every person in that audience is on their own journey. I love that he asks many, many questions and doesn't feel that it is his duty to answer them. What I hope is that this song, like the rest of the show, continues to mine everyone's individual curiosity about the show and about their own interaction with it.

I've heard so many interpretations of this show from audience members and they all feel so deeply personal. I hope that this moment does more of that- invites more mystery. I hope it gives them more of what they need to see. We did a run through the other day and I sat offstage and watched the whole show. I heard things I never heard before! I was paying particular attention to one character and I had a completely different experience than I previously had. My favorite part of this process has been understanding the beauty of questions and mystery as opposed to answers and conclusions.

Girl from the North Country

Have you heard a lot of wacky interpretations of the song or the show from friends or fans?

Nothing that feels like they were watching a play that I'd never seen before! [Laughs] It's such a buffet of ideas that I feel like I can relate when people tell me what they think it's about. People definitely have an opinion about who they think the 'Girl from the North Country' is. I absolutely love that. Even the title asks a question that is not answered!

Of course, people can listen to listen to this number on the cast recording if they haven't seen it yet. Are you person who can joy in listening to yourself or do you avoid it at all costs?

I don't avoid it, but I'm that person who says, "Oh, I wish I could go back and fix that!" I definitely try not to beat myself up though, because I've spent far too much of my life doing that. But I don't put it on for my own pleasure or anything!

Other than this song, what is your favorite to perform or watch in this show?

At the end of "Like Rolling Stone," Mare Winningham and I have a little dance that we do together. We love doing it. We spent the past week and a half trying to remember it, and we really thought we had it. We were like, "That feels right. That's it!" Then Mare came running to me the other day and she held out her arms and I leapt into them and she lead me through the dance. She had fixed the thing that we subconsciously knew was wrong. And we both just knew, "That's it!" So right now that is my favorite moment.


VIDEO: Winningham & Bayardelle Discuss Meeting Bob Dylan on WENDY Photo
VIDEO: Winningham & Bayardelle Discuss Meeting Bob Dylan on WENDY

Mare Winningham and Jeannette Bayardelle sat down with Sherri Shepherd on the Wendy Show to discuss starring in Girl From the North Country on Broadway. During the interview, the stars reacted to their Tony nominations, revealing how they found out, and detailed their meeting with Bob Dylan, whose music is used in the show.

Photos: New York Governor Kathy Hochul Stops by Broadways GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY Photo
Photos: New York Governor Kathy Hochul Stops by Broadway's GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

New York Governor Kathy Hochul visited Girl From The North Country on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre this evening. Prior to the show, she visited with the cast and came onstage to give brief remarks about Broadway’s resilience and the comeback of New York City.  

VIDEO: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRYs Colin Bates and Caitlin Houlahan Perform Photo
VIDEO: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY's Colin Bates and Caitlin Houlahan Perform

Girl From the North Country cast members Colin Bates and Caitlin Houlahan gave an exclusive live performance at The Wall Street Journal’s The Future of Everything Festival yesterday.

Interview: Jeannette Bayardelle Talks GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY Photo
Interview: Jeannette Bayardelle Talks GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY

BroadwayWorld spoke with Jeannette Bayardelle, who stars as Mrs. Nielsen in Girl From the North Country, about her first Tony nomination, what she's most looking forward to at this year's Tony Awards, and more!

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