[MUSICAL THEATRE/Theatre ~ AUS/INT]
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sat 26 Mar.
Girl From The North Country is a musical by Conor McPherson which was created to showcase Bob Dylan songs. Set in Dylan’s birthplace of Duluth Minnesota during 1934 the action takes place at a boarding house during the Thanksgiving season. We see an array of characters from locals to those passing through as they decide how to move their lives forward after calamity. Certainly not the starting premise for many musicals but despite some awkward plotting choices this musical succeeds because of the stunning re-imagined versions of Dylan’s songs and an outstandingly impressive cast.
The show from GWB Entertainment, State Theatre Company South Australia and Trafalgar Entertainment Group by Arrangement with Tristan Baker and Charlie Parsons of Runaway Entertainment made its debut at the 2022 Sydney Festival and, now presented as part of the State Theatre Company South Australia’s season, Adelaide audiences will witness a honed production.
There is an intentional American Gothic flavour throughout which Rae Smith’s murky set and costuming design supports. Lucy Hind as movement director elicits some great full cast routines which help lift the spirits. The misty, at times ill-lit stage is atmospheric and authentic to the times but got distracting as the audience tried to work out some of the action at the back of the stage.
Ultimately it is the quality of the singing and Andrew Ross’ musical direction that sits centre stage. Standout versions of Dylan’s songs just keep coming.
The show was never intended as a parade of Dylan’s greatest hits, but delves much deeper into lesser known songs that in some way lend authenticity to the plot. The story begins promisingly with Sign On The Window and Went To See The Gypsy, and along the way we are treated to tremendous renditions of songs like Idiot Wind, Senor and Slow Train Coming. There are some rollicking versions of songs such as Duquesne Whistle and You Ain’t Going Nowhere. With just the right tempo and subtle build up Tight Connection To My Heart is transformed into a haunting showstopper sung immaculately by Cheman Theys as Marianne. Christine O’Neill’s version of Pressing On to close the show becomes an aching but positive anthem. The duets Is Your Love In Vain? between Tony Cogin and Helen Dalimore, and I Want You sung by James Smith and Elizabeth Hay are also memorable.
So, too, is the acting. Lisa McCune gives an excellent portrayal of a woman with dementia; at times vulnerable and at others feisty and funny. The narrator and local doctor played by Terrence Crawford gives a measured and reassuring performance which grounds the show.
Despite all of this the plotting of the whole show feels ultimately cluttered and over complicated. It becomes confusing and in places feels contrived. Does the plot include an African American boxer who has been wrongfully incarcerated for murder just so we get to hear a fabulous and vibrant rendition of Hurricane?
However this is a show well worth seeing for its energy and enthusiasm and to hear top notch singers re-interpret Dylan’s songs as you have probably never heard them sung before.
Girl From The North Country continues at Her Majesty’s Theatre, at various times, until Sun 10 Apr.
Book at Ticketek.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
All images courtesy of Daniel Boud except Elijah Williams image which is courtesy of Matt Byrne.