Updated: Jun 9, 2022
Every so often, a new Broadway musical premieres that writes itself into the American theatre canon. Sometimes, the production shares a cutting social commentary that memorializes the time in which it was written—think, Rent. Other times, it uses history to make us question and reflect upon our current society, à la Spring Awakening. On a rare occasion, the production does both, providing a comprehensive scope and story that relates to past, present, and future generations. That is the essence of Girl from the North Country.
The musical presents a layered story that touches on several themes, including mental health, poverty, illness, and race, all with the Great Depression as a backdrop. Yet, it is still hopeful and inspiring, invoking the same resilient spirit many of us have had to channel over the last few years due to global challenges. — Marsi Gardiner, North Country Producer and BHS Agent
Hailed by the New York Times as a "ravishing and singular musical," Girl from the North Country is set in 1934, in a run-down Minnesota hostel that is facing foreclosure amid the Depression. It centers on Nick Lane, the hostel's proprietor, as well as his family members, including his wife Elizabeth, who is battling advanced Dementia.
The Lanes have two children, Gene—a struggling writer with an alcohol dependency—and Marianne, whose story is complicated by the fact that she is Black, adopted, and pregnant by a man whose identity she is keeping secret.
There are also guests of the hostel, including Mrs. Neilsen—a newly widowed woman awaiting the release of her husband's will—and the Burkes, a family displaced due to the Depression.
Each character in the story expresses their hope for a better tomorrow despite their circumstances, all while underscoring the power of family, love, and optimism.
The musical utilizes the songs of Bob Dylan to tell its story. But unlike the traditional "jukebox musical," the songs are not directly woven into the plot or dialogue. Rather, they exist in their own realm.
Instead of directly referencing the actions of the plot, the songs convey the characters' emotions and feelings in a way that is free and visceral, rather than limited to the confines of the story's reality. The score includes everything from classics like "I Want You" and "Like a Rolling Stone" to some of Dylan's more understated songs, including "Slow Train" and "Jokerman." The result is an intimate and dimensional musical work that is likely to pull at your heartstrings, Dylan fan or otherwise.
"...no show on a New York stage since Fun Home has so inextricably integrated music and drama. As the songbooks of popular artists more frequently become fodder on Broadway for narrative patchworks, McPherson’s artistry, his evident connection to Dylan’s work and his grasp of the songs’ slippery storytelling power give you fresh hope for the genre." — David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
Girl from the North Country opened on March 5, 2020 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The musical closed one week later due to COVID-19, eventually reopening in October 2021 for a limited run. So popular was the production that its run was soon extended to June 19.
Much like the characters in its story, Girl from the North Country has endured despite circumstantial setbacks. It is currently nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Though only on Broadway for a limited time, its heartwarming story, message of hope, and endearing characters are sure to live on in the hearts of theatergoers far and wide.