Review: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY at Connor Palace

Girl from The North Country of Key Bank Broadway Series Is Not a Typical Musical

By: Nov. 06, 2023
Review: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY at Connor Palace

David Greene, the Senior Vice President of Programming at Playhouse Square, informs theater-goers in his program notes for GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY that “it is a non-traditional musical which features songs by music legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bob Dylan.” 

He goes on to say, “[the songs] do not always sync with the story, rather they run parallel and expose something that we do not already know about a character or situation, a sort of peek into the subconscious.” 

You are there to listen to Bob Dylan music and not figure out why this song is being sung by that character and how it fits into the tale.

As Greene indicates, theatre-goers should not go to the show expecting to see a story-line musical.  This is not OKLAHOMA, DEAR EVAN HANSEN or RENT.  They shouldn’t even expect MAMMA MIA, JERSEY BOYS or MOULIN ROUGE, juke box musicals which, like GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, are a collection of pre-written music, jammed into a synthetic story line. 

Bob Dylan?  He’s Robert Allen Zimmerman, an 82-year-old American singer-songwriter, generally regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, who has been a major figure in popular culture for the 60 years of his career. 

Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" (1964) became anthems for the civil rights and antiwar movements.

His lyrics during that period incorporated liberal political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defying pop music conventions and appealing to the burgeoning counterculture.

Dylan was raised in Hibbing, Minnesota.  His grandparents emigrated from Russia and Lithuania following the pogroms in their native lands. 

He was brought up as part of a small, close-knit Jewish community, where he learned “Jewish values,” went to college where he became involved in the Dinkytown folk music circuit, which is an area of Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota campus noted for being the center of student life, and began to introduce himself as "Bob Dylan,” supposedly after reading poems by Dylan Thomas

As he explained it, "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free."

In the late 1970s, Dylan converted to Evangelical Christianity and released three albums of contemporary gospel music during what is called his “religious” period.  “He returned to Judaism.” And the? A recent quote seems to sum up his views: “I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods. I contain multitudes…”

In 2016 he was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature, with the explanation that the committee was awarding Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

The award was not without controversy, and The New York Times reported: "Mr. Dylan, is the first musician to win the award, and his selection is perhaps the most radical choice in a history stretching back to 1901." 

Dylan was included in Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Important People of the Century.”   He was called "a master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation."

In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY has a book by Conor McPherson and premiered  at The Old Vic in London running from July 8 to October 27, 017.  It came to Broadway on March 5, 2020.  

The COVID-19 pandemic shuttered Broadway theaters on March 12, 2020, the show resumed performances on October 13, 2021. It  permanently closed on June 19.

The play with music takes place on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth in the winter of 1934 when America is in the grip of the Great Depression.

The story is narrated by Dr. Walker, physician to the Laine family. Nick Laine is the proprietor of a rundown guesthouse. The bank is threatening to foreclose on the property and he is desperate to find a way to save his family from homelessness. His wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from a form of dementia. Their children are Gene, who is in his early twenties, and their adopted daughter, Marianne, who is nineteen.

As the slight, soap-opera like “story” develops, we meet various residents of the guesthouse and locals, who share their backstories and present lives.

Late at night, during a storm, a self-styled reverend bible salesman and a down-on-his-luck boxer arrive looking for shelter. The arrival of these characters is a catalyst, changing everything for everyone in the house.

Twenty-two Bob Dylan songs are performed. Songs include: “Went to See the Gypsy,” “Slow Train,” “Make Me Feel Your Love,” “True Love Tends to Forget,” “Is Your Love in Vain” and “Pressing On.”

Capsule judgment: The singing voices are strong, the music well-played, the technical aspects well done.  The sound system leaves much to be desired as spoken voices are not well-heard. Don’t expect the usual Broadway glossy set, special effects, fancy costumes, or electronic effects.  If you are a Dylan-fanatic, are into his music and/or want to sit back and listen to his songs, while paying a little attention to a slight story, this will be your thing!  Me?  I’m looking forward to FUNNNY GIRL and COMPANY, later in the season offerings.

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, which is part of the 2023-24 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, will play in the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square from Tuesday, October 31-Sunday, November 19. Show times are Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets for all performances are available online at or by calling 216-241-6000.


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