Review Girl From The North Country: A Welcomed Visitor

L-R Ben Biggers, Sharaé Moultrie, Jennifer Blood and John Schiappa in the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American Tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

L-R Ben Biggers, Sharaé Moultrie, Jennifer Blood and John Schiappa in the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American Tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

The Girl From The North Country
Paramount Theatre
June 25 – 30, 2024 get tickets and more info here.

Girl From The North Country tells a story while using the music of Bob Dylan, and a book by Conor McPherson. The show has a limited (rather short) run at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, and is a different kind of performance that provokes thought, not only on the art itself, but in how it is presented.

The story takes place at a boarding house in Minnesota, 1934. Nick has inherited the property and is behind on payments to the bank, facing foreclosure. His wife Elizabeth, is suffering from a sort of dementia spending time in her own world and making commentary for the rest. They have two children; a son Gene, who spends his time drinking instead of writing, and Marianne, an adopted daughter of color that is four months pregnant, and refusing to mention the father. Nick is desperate to marry off Marianne to a wealthy older man, so that she will be cared for when the baby is due. Long time residents of the boarding house include Mr. and Mrs. Burke, and their son Elias. Elias has a mental disorder and when provoked, flies into fits of rage. Mrs. Neilsen also stays at the house, waiting to inherit money from a law suit, and because she is having an affair with Nick. Two strangers appear at the boarding house; a Reverend Marlowe, preaching The Word and selling bibles, and Joe Scott, a man of color that was a former boxer. Over the course of a few days, the relationships, fears, hopes and dreams of everyone within the boarding house changes forever.

The cast of the show are all excellent. This includes the ‘ensemble’ that gathers and sings in shadow and silhouette from – at times – behind a scrim, and the small band that plays from the back of the stage. It is difficult to say who the features are in the show. At several points, different cast members come forward to sing or to play an instrument along with the band. This helps set the show’s mood. Matt Manuel plays Joe Scott, the former fighter that stumbles into the boarding house. His voice is strong when given solos and his stage presence is noticeable. Carla Woods plays Mrs. Neilsen, the longtime resident having an affair with Nick. Ms. Woods has a powerful voice that reaches the theatre’s corners, as she makes her entrance singing “Went to See the Gypsy”. John Schiappa plays Nick the owner of the boarding house. We can see his struggle trying to maintain hope and balance between his life, the loyalty in taking care of his family, and trying to scratch out a corner of his own happiness

If there is a main character to the show, it would be Elizabeth Laine played by Jennifer Blood. Ms. Blood takes Elizabeth’s dementia to new levels as she shows us the helplessness of not being able to feed herself, as well as the awareness of pushing her daughter towards the man who can bring her happiness. Ms. Blood stays within the character’s limits with small gestures; her arm waving to hail an imaginary cab, or a half-mumbled comment that escapes almost everyone except the audience. She exposes Elizabeth’s fragile condition with movement and body language, even when playing a tambourine, or singing alongside the ensemble.

(L-R) Aidan Wharton, David Benoit, Jennifer Blood and Jeremy Webb in the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

(L-R) Aidan Wharton, David Benoit, Jennifer Blood and Jeremy Webb in the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Girl From The North Country is not your typical jukebox musical. Some might argue that it is not a musical at all, but more of a presentation or stage drama with (a lot of) music. None of these are wrong. True to the jukebox formula, like Jersey Boys or Mamma Mia!, the patchy storyline is held together by the music of one group (The Four Seasons, or ABBA), and in this case the music of Bob Dylan. Unlike its predecessors, the music in Girl From The North Country does NOT propel the storyline forward, or even allow an emotional soliloquy for any one particular character to reveal their individual vulnerabilities. Here the music is used as a mood setter, not only for the character(s) singing, but for the moment on stage as well. This concept works making the music integral to the plot as much as the scenery itself. When an individual comes forward to sing, it isn’t so much an expression of their own personal journey/emotions, but that which is representing the mood of the moment, and usually speaks for the majority of characters (including ensemble) present at the time. The concept is different from most musicals, and in this case, it works well.

Girl From The North Country opened on Broadway March 05, 2020 and ran for 117 performances. Nominated for seven Tony Awards including Best Musical of 2022, the show won only one Tony Award for Best Orchestration. A special and limited engagement remounted the show from April 29 – June 19, 2022.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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