We talk Dylan, Bible Sales, and amazing songs!

By: Apr. 27, 2024
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GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY opens this week at the Hobby Center, and Broadway World Writer Brett Cullum got a chance to speak with actor Jeremy Webb, who plays the character Reverend Marlowe. Jeremy should be familiar to Houston audiences as he has played at TUTS, the Alley, and just about any house you can name. He is also a television star, often appearing on LAW AND ORDER. He is known for Broadway runs in TAKE ME OUT, BURN THIS, and THE VISIT (with Chita Rivera and John Cullum). GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY will be at the Hobby Center through May 5th. 

Brett Cullum: GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY has a strange history because it was a Broadway show that opened in 2020. So it had a rather short initial run, got caught up in the pandemic, and then got revived. And now you guys are touring it, but it's not a show that I am super familiar with. What would you say this show is about? 

Jeremy Webb: It's a super interesting show, beautifully written and created by Conor Mcpherson, the famous Irish playwright. It uses the Bob Dylan catalog of songs. It's a Tony Award-winning brand-new musical. And it's set in 1934, right in the midst of the worst part of the Depression. Nobody has money or food, and this cast of wayward characters comes together in the musical. We find them spending about three days together, leading up to and including the Thanksgiving holiday. It's a Greek tragedy set to Dylan's music and Conor's words. This author is fond of referring to it as a vinegar-and-honey experience, right? So, the scenes are hard-hitting and deeply dramatic. Then, the music is the honey that provides the sort of balm for you to move into, which is sort of the next episode of the storytelling.

Brett Cullum: It's interesting cause we've had a lot of what I call jukebox musicals come through lately. Most recently, we had things like THE CHER SHOW and TINA, as well as musical biographies of artists using their catalogs or other iterations like Mama Mia, using ABBA. But this sounds a little bit more serious and a little bit more pointed. It sounds like I'm finally going to take a jukebox musical a little bit more seriously.

Jeremy Webb: I don't wanna scare people off right and say serious because people think, “What do I want? A serious musical?”  It's a pure musical. What sets our show apart is we're not telling Bob Dylan’s story. What we're doing here is no particular character. Dylan was born around 1940. Our show is 1934. Dylan doesn't exist here in the literal sense, but he is sort of every character in our show. Every character is channeling the spirit of our American troubadour, Bob Dylan. It's a departure from some of those more sort of commercial jukebox musicals.

Brett Cullum: Well, in a spiritual connection, if I'm not wrong. I believe that Dylan was actually born in Duluth.

Jeremy Webb: Near Duluth. That's right. Conor tells this story about how he took a long, long walk like he always does when he's considering a new project in the rain in Ireland, where he lives. He came up with the idea of a boarding house in 1934. Knowing that Dylan was from Minnesota, that sort of formulated. He came back to where Conor writes. He came back with this whole scenario of there's a doctor in the town, a Bible salesman, which I play, and the guy who runs the boarding house and foster children, and a rich family from back East that's fallen on hard times of all the way that all of these characters sort of swarmed through this boarding house formed the narrative. He, absolutely set it in Minnesota, because he knew that Bob was from there. The show, in every way, honors Dylan, the essence of Dylan, and particularly the poetry and the lyrics of Dylan. 

Brett Cullum: I think of him as one of those artists, almost like Leonard Cohen, where I enjoy other people doing his music almost more than I do him doing his music because then I get to hear the lyrical facets of it, and the interpretation and something else. How does it feel? Just as a cast working exclusively with Dylan material.

Jeremy Webb: Revelatory. Deeply pure. I was neither a fan nor not a fan of Dylan when I started this process. I initially started working on this show, and now I am the biggest Dylan fan. He's so ubiquitous. He's out there in the culture. So, of course, I knew Dylan and Dylan's songs, but this has made me a huge fan of his. I had an experience in rehearsal on the first or second day. There's a song that I don't sing in the show that Adele has re-recorded and made famous in the last 5 to 10 years. When I first heard it, I saw the ladies in the show singing the song. I was in the hall, and I was so amazed! I found myself thinking, “Why is there an Adele song in the show?” Someone told me, “That's Dylan's like everything else in the show.” But we know his music through hundreds of artists that have covered his music. People who may be a little older than me know his songs, maybe in the pure Dylan recordings of it. But yeah, so this is another layer. Right? Our show is another layer. It's another texture. The singing in our show is crazy and bonkers in how good it sounds. When you hear this show! After every performance, I think you hear, “Oh, my God! The singing!”

He's amazing. He's the talent. He's brilliant. He won the Nobel for poetry. He also has a really strange voice, and it's hard to hear the lyrics sometimes. So in this, we enunciate like Broadway performers, you know. You can hear it a little bit better.

Brett Cullum: Hey? Let's start with you a little bit. How did you start in this profession as a performer?

Jeremy Webb: Oh, you know, I'm one of those unicorn freaks that just kind of came out of my mother's womb as an actor. It's always been the thing that I've done! In middle school and high school, I remember my parents sitting me down and limiting me. They would say, “Okay. During the school year, you can only do three shows! That is the limit during the school year.” It's always been my focus. I graduated from North Carolina School for the Arts, a great drama school, and started working. I have spent my life doing this. I did a soap opera for a long time called THE GUIDING LIGHT. Some work on Broadway, and you know, a lot of really happy experiences in Houston in my career. The first show I did at the Alley was where I played Lt. Daniel Kaffee in A FEW GOOD MEN. The Aaron Sorkin piece was about a decade ago. That's the “Tom Cruise” role, and a bunch of other shows have followed at the Alley. I fid SPAM-A-LOT for TUTS!

My career has taken me sort of all over the country and all over the world. And I'm just super grateful to have had the career that I have had. I've always sort of bounced back and forth between plays and musicals, and GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY is a super fit for me because these are proper scenes butting up against excellent music. So it's it feels like a nice fit for me.

Brett Culum: What song do you sing? 

Jeremy Webb: “Slow Train” is my number one on the show, and it's phenomenal. It's maybe lesser known than some of some of the greatest hits. But, it rises out of this period in Dylan's life when he had a religious epiphany and recorded, I think, four, maybe five albums in a row, that where he explored spirituality and Christianity. Dylan went through a born-again phase, which a lot of people may not realize or remember about him. And so “Slow Train” is a song that rises out of that. It fits with the themes that are brought up by my character as well because I play a Bible salesman, a character named Reverend James Marlow, who is on the spiritual spectrum, I mean. He, like everyone else in this show, is deeply affected by the circumstances of the Depression. 

There's a lot of gospel on the show. We close the show with “Pressing On,” which is a huge gospel number and a huge, beautiful orchestration. This show won the Tony Award for its orchestrations and for its arrangements. God! The orchestrations are amazing and incredible.

Brett Cullum: Well, Jeremy Webb, thank you so much. We cannot wait to see you in GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY coming to the Hobby Center from April thirtieth through May fifth. It is part of the Broadway series at the Hobby Center, and I just appreciate you.  

You can look for tickets for GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY by following the link below.


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