Girl From the North Country, the acclaimed Broadway musical, brings together the poetic genius of Bob Dylan’s music with the compelling storytelling of playwright Conor McPherson. Set in 1930s Minnesota, the show weaves together the lives of a diverse group of individuals struggling with their own hopes, dreams, and heartaches. With a hauntingly beautiful score featuring Dylan’s iconic songs, Girl From the North Country offers a unique and profound experience that transcends time and resonates with audiences.
At the heart of the musical lies McPherson’s captivating storytelling. The narrative unfolds in the timespan of a week around Thanksgiving in a boarding house where disparate characters find themselves seeking refuge from various storms of life. Each character is fleshed out with depth and nuance, as their stories intersect and collide, revealing the human struggles we all face as the musical delves into themes of love, loss, and redemption.
After deciding that he wanted to write a musical about a boardinghouse in Minnesota in the 1930s
with Dylan’s discography to serve as the music, McPherson set to writing a few pages to give Dylan a taste of what the production would look like. The response? A message back that Dylan really liked the idea, wanted McPherson to proceed, and gave him total freedom to his entire catalogue.
“They sent all of his albums to my house,” McPherson told Broadway.com. “So, there were like 50
albums. The way that I did it was, if I liked a song, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll put that in.’ “
Bob Dylan’s music has always been deeply evocative and introspective, and in Girl From the North Country, his songs find new life. Through Dylan’s timeless lyrics and melodies, the characters’ emotions and dilemmas are brought to the forefront. Songs like “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Forever Young,” and the titular “Girl From the North Country” are seamlessly integrated into the narrative, enhancing the storytelling and giving voice to the characters’ innermost desires and conflicts.
“In a way, you’re being drawn into the inner life of the character and it’s almost like their inner
life is dream-like in a funny way,” McPherson said to Broadway.com, regarding the integration of Dylan’s songs into the story. “It feels like you’re getting to know the character’s inner soul, so it deeps it rather than moving it forward.”
When creating the sound for the musical, orchestrator Simon Hale was very adamant that all the instruments used in the show must be from the 1930s, since that was the musical’s setting. The Tony Award–winning arrangements, expertly crafted by Hale, breathe fresh life into Dylan’s catalog, showcasing the versatility and universality of his music.
Director Conor McPherson’s vision is beautifully realized through Rae Smith’s stunning set design, which captures the bleak yet intimate atmosphere of Depression-era Minnesota. The lighting design by Mark Henderson further enhances the mood and tone, creating haunting and evocative stage pictures.
Since its premiere at London’s Old Vic Theatre in 2017, Girl From the North Country has received critical acclaim for its innovative approach to musical storytelling. The show made its way to Broadway in 2020 but was forced to shutter during the pandemic. When Broadway returned in the fall of 2021, Girl From the North Country reopened and it garnered numerous accolades, including several Tony Award nominations.
The musical’s success lies in its ability to appeal to both Dylan enthusiasts and theater lovers. Dylan’s fans appreciate the new interpretations of his beloved songs, while theatergoers are captivated by the show’s emotional depth and powerful performances. Girl From the North Country has proven to be a unique and timeless theatrical experience that resonates with audiences across generations.
“I saw [Girl From the North Country] as an anonymous spectator, not as someone who had anything to do with it,” Dylan said in an interview with The New York Times. “I just let it happen. The play had me crying at the end. I can’t even say why. When the curtain came down, I was stunned. I really was.”
Girl From the North Country stands as a testament to the enduring power of Bob Dylan’s music and the transformative potential of theater. Through its mesmerizing storytelling, powerful performances, and the iconic soundtrack, the musical creates an unforgettable journey that leaves a lasting impact on all who experience it.
“It’s like you’re hearing these stories and then you’re getting the music,” McPherson said. “And I guess all theatre is like that in a way. We’re just inviting that contemplation. We’re just inviting you to join with a community in the theatre. But what you’re all doing together is going on your own internal journey.”