Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY's Limited Engagement in Toronto
After critically acclaimed, smash-hit runs at The Old Vic London, in London's West End, and at The Public Theater New York, Girl from the North Country comes to Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre for a strictly limited engagement. Performances are now on stage through Sunday, November 24.
1934. A time-weathered guesthouse in the heartland of America. Only a song can shake off the dust for one group of wayward souls-and old dreams may hold the promise of new beginnings. As they pass in and out of each other's lives, their stories awaken with passion, fury and extraordinary beauty. Reimagining the music of Bob Dylan as roof-raising ensemble pieces and soul-stirring solos, celebrated playwright Conor McPherson (The Weir, The Seafarer) writes and directs this heartbreaking and universal story about family and love.
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY features scenic and costume design by Rae Smith; lighting design by Mark Henderson; sound design by Simon Baker; orchestrations, arrangements, and music supervision by Simon Hale, with additional arrangements by Simon Hale and Conor McPherson; and movement direction by Lucy Hind.
GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY is produced by Tristan Baker & Charlie Parsons for Runaway Entertainment, Steven Lappin, Sony Music Entertainment UK, David Mirvish and The Old Vic with Aaron Lustbader serving as Executive Producer
A Broadway production of the musical will premiere at New York's Belasco Theatre, performances begin on February 7, 2020, with the opening night set for March 5.
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Karen Fricker, Toronto Star: McPherson was not an obvious choice: this is his first stage work set in the U.S. and he has never written a musical before. But it turns out he was an inspired one. He channels his characteristic focus on sad, dislocated people and his fascination with something unknowable and bigger than us (call it the supernatural, call it a higher power) into a genuine innovation in theatrical form. In McPherson's production (he directs as well as writes) the music is that powerful force: The songs well up out of situations in the story but do not comment directly on them, and it's as if all of the performers and the stage space itself are somehow in their thrall.
Martin Morrow, Globe and Mail: Just as Dylan's music filches from earlier blues, folk and gospel tunes, McPherson's play affectionately doffs its hat to early-20th-century American writers, from John Steinbeck and Eugene O'Neill to Thornton Wilder. Allusions abound, beginning with the Our Town-type narrator (the local doctor, played by a suitably sage Ferdy Roberts). There is also a direct borrow from Dylan himself, with a framed pugilist à la Rubin Carter, the subject of his ballad Hurricane (thrillingly sung by Taylor). More often, the songs have an oblique relationship to the action. Sometimes performed in medleys and often as fragments, they're like glimpses into other stories, other lives - other guests in this already crowded guest house.
Isabella Perrone, BroadwayWorld: There is a bit of disconnect between the songs and the story, too, as characters don't sing as if they own the songs. The use of old-fashioned silver microphones makes the singing more like a performance within a performance-and they're really beautiful interpretations of Dylan's works-but it doesn't feel like a traditional musical. Maybe that's a good thing, and maybe it's not. What can be said is that despite a lack of connection overall, there's something about GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY that can make you feel. Looking back, there were moments where I felt deeply during the show, but after leaving the quiet of the theatre it became difficult to identify or make sense of some of those emotions.
Susan G. Cole, Now Magazine: The performers, many of whom pick up instruments to join the band, are uniformly superb. Brayben, as a woman slowly losing her mind, but, ironically, the only one with a handle on the truth, is brilliant singing Like A Rolling Stone like Alanis on dexies. Then again hers is the only character written with much depth.
Paula Citron, Ludwig-Van: The London critics, in particular, talk about audience members crying at the end of Girl from the North Country, but I, who am usually the first to be consumed by sentiment, (I cried when the lepers got cured in Ben-Hur), shed nary a tear. In fact, I felt no connection at all. While I understand what McPherson was trying to do in separating Dylan's mostly mournful songs from the direct story line, this disconnect rendered the show medium cool, for me, at least. Since the characters are not singing about themselves, the show is missing that emotional underpinning. Not helping matters is Rae Smith's set that is gloomy and undistinguished, although her drab period costumes are spot on.
Sam Mooney, Mooney on Theatre: I loved Mark Henderson's lighting. I don't think I've ever raved about lighting in a review before, but I found it gorgeous. It was never too bright in the boarding house, it fit the drabness of the set. During some of the scenes there were vignettes of a few of the characters. They were beautifully lit; a couple made me think of muted Impressionist paintings. The action continued beside and behind them, but those characters were barely lit at all. The contrast was visually stunning. I also loved the use of spotlights.
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