Oscar E Moore

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GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY – Hope and heartbreak with a double dose of Dylan

October 14th, 2021 by Oscar E Moore

A somber, melancholy atmosphere is set as one enters the Belasco Theatre by the shadowy lighting and vacant musical instruments on a bare stage as the actors slowly enter to tell their stories; baring their souls and exposing their feelings in a most beautiful production of a not so beautiful time in American history in GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY.

A hybrid patchwork quilt utilizing the lyrical and heartfelt songs of Robert Allen Zimmerman – otherwise known as Bob Dylan with an original book by the Irish playwright and director extraordinaire Conor McPherson without whom this entire production would not exist.

He is assisted greatly by Lucy Hind – movement director who manages to create some integral character driven group dance sequences and appropriate scenic & costume design by Rae Smith beautifully lit by Mark Henderson.

1934 -Duluth Minnesota (birthplace of Dylan 1941) – the depths of the depression. Jobs are scarce.  Everyone is on edge.  We meet a cross section of its inhabitants in a dilapidated boarding house barely eking out its existence run by a ready to explode Nick Laine (Jay O. Sanders) who must tend to his off kilter wife Elizabeth (Mare Winningham) who at times is as wise as a fox and supplies some humorous asides.

Along with their son Gene (Colton Ryan) who dreams of a writing career but whose bout with the bottle does him in and their adopted black pregnant daughter Marianne (Kimber Elayne Sprawl) whose talent shines throughout the production.

Nick and his wife no longer are in love with one another.  He has replaced her with Mrs. Neilson (Jeannette Bay Ardelle) a widow who expects to inherit three thousand dollars to help Nick as Elizabeth looks on, sometimes attentively – sometimes into space appearing to be out of it completely.

Unexpectedly love finds its way of interacting with most of the people you will meet – “Tight Connection to My Heart”  “Make You Feel My Love” “Sweetheart Like You” “True Love Tends to Forget” “Is Your Love in Vain” and the gorgeous “I Want You” – sung as a duet between Gene and his girlfriend Kate (Caitlin Houlahan) – all beautifully arranged by Simon Hale who has done a masterful job in creating harmonies and choral numbers that make use of gospel,  soul, big band and a simple yet very effective harmonica.

The ensemble is magnificent – with glorious soaring voices.

Nick has plans for the 19 year old Marianne.  To be wed to an old geezer, Mr. Perry (Tom Nelis) but she falls for Joe Scott (Austin Scott) a boxer with a shady past who arrives with Reverend Marlowe (Matt McGrath) a con-man selling bibles and spewing the words of the Lord.

Another couple at odds with one another are Mr. and Mrs. Burke (a short tempered Marc Kudisch) and his soused spouse (an excellent Luba Mason) who doubles on drums.  Their mentally challenged son Elias – an excellent Todd Almond – tugs at our heartstrings.

The “hope and heartbreak” book is reminiscent of OUR TOWN and Saroyan’s THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE and works wonders at keeping all the various characters in line seamlessly with their hopes and dreams and conflicts.

Our narrator Dr. Walker (Robert Joy) fills in vital information seguing from songs to scene, from violence to tenderness that make us hold our applause until the uplifting finale “Pressing On” that gets the audience to their feet with cheers of Bravo! – echoing up to the rafters.  GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY is a truly special emotional journey.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED especially for those who are tired of razzle dazzle scream fests.

NOTE:  Performance reviewed Wednesday matinee March 11, 2020


Photos:  Matthew Murray

2 hours 30 minutes – One Intermission

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  • 1 shelley Oct 15, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    Oscar, you brought me back to the viewing of this beautifully done play. Thank you so much for your insights and fine critical thinking. This was the last play I saw before the lockdown.

    Broadway when done with the sensitivity, acumen and talent displayed on this stage brings the audience to church as this production did for me.

    Thanks again!