Girl From The North Country

Girl From The North Country • June 11, 2024 • Eccles Theater

Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe

Photos provided by:

Photo Courtesy of Melissa Cohen (BOND Theatrical)

With the Tony Awards being broadcast this Sunday night, it felt fitting to find myself inside Eccles Theater watching a musical.  A Tony Award-winning (Best Orchestrations) musical at that.  The audience seemed in great spirits, ready to enjoy another great evening in downtown Salt Lake City with another show in the Broadway At The Eccles series.  

Girl From The North Country is a musical featuring the music and lyrics of the great Bob Dylan with the book by Conor McPherson.  It is set in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934 in the shadow of The Great Depression.  The show takes place inside a guesthouse, or hotel of sorts.  The cast consists of various people staying at the home.  As the show goes along we are made aware of the different trials, tribulations, and struggles that each character faces or has experienced.  

I’ve had a difficult time truly deciding what I thought of this production.  There was so much talent, and so many things done well, that it’s difficult to say that I didn’t like the musical.  But I left with more questions than answers both with the story and with some of the choices this production made.  So let’s get into it.  We’ll start with the positives.  

The talent of this cast was undeniable.  This cast was deep with talent.  That was made evident when three of the biggest roles, Elizabeth Laine, Marianne Laine,  and Mrs. Neilsen were performed by the understudies.  These roles were filled admirably by Kelly McCormick, Ashley D. Brooks, and Rayla Garske respectively.  They were so good that I had no clue they were understudies until I got home.  They all stepped into their roles seamlessly.  Their voices were incredible and again, just exemplified just how talented this cast was.

It’s difficult to not just name each member of the cast as they all took turns really standing out.  But to name a few, John Schiappa as Nick Laine did a great job as an intrical cog in the machine of the show.  His character seemed to be the most involved with other story lines and characters.  Keeping the flow of that going is not an easy thing to do and I thought Schaippa did an excellent job of that. I also have to tip my cap to Jay Russell who played Mr. Perry.  Mr. Perry is an eccentric character who could easily have been played in a forgettable way and be lost in the shuffle of the large cast.  But I thought Russell gave Mr. Perry a way to stand out in the time he was featured on stage.  

I thought the band/ orchestra was excellent.  All of the musical numbers were performed with instruments from the 1930s.  The arrangements were unique and impressive.  Worthy of the Tony they won.  Sometimes they were too well done.  There were some well known Dylan songs that were almost unrecognizable due to the arrangement.  I can’t decide if that’s such a good thing.  

On that note, one of my questions is, was it necessary for this production to be wrapped around the music of Bob Dylan? Do these songs serve the show in a way that perhaps an original score could not?  Was this story created based on these songs?  If so, that was lost on me.  And I would argue that this musical could have easily been produced and possibly enhanced with its own music.  Why are Bob Dylan songs being performed in a musical that takes place in the 1930s? The music didn’t stand out as being Dylan’s music.

I understand that this wasn’t meant to be your typical Jukebox Musical, but I think if you’re using music that was written by a songwriting legend, there needs to be those “Ah Ha”  moments that come with hearing a familiar melody in a Jukebox Musical.  I know Girl From The North Country is meant to be deeper and darker than Mamma Mia and even Tony Winner, Jersey Boys, but I still think that this show needed those moments with these songs.  I only felt that during “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young”.  That’s not enough times.  

I left the show with some questions.  Was it necessary for literally every character in the cast to have the worst possible thing happen to them in their story? I wasn’t necessarily looking for a happy ending, but what am I meant to understand from these characters’ struggles?  Also, why am I invested in or care about any of these characters?  Because I’m watching them?  That’s not enough of a reason. They seem thrown at us and then we’re meant to be invested.  Not enough was done to draw the audience in.   Why are the songs just bleeding into the next scene?  Do they not want us to applaud?  There were many songs that I thought were perfectly performed and yet there was never a break to applaud the performance. 

Girl From The North Country made me feel like I was watching the kind of indie film where I can’t figure out why I’m still watching.  I’m intrigued, in some aspects I am captivated by what’s happening.  There’s enough happening in an interesting way for me to notice that a lot of work and talent has gone into this, but I’m worried that I will finish the movie confused and a little letdown

As I write all of this I’m fully aware that it could be just me.  I can easily be the one who isn’t deep enough to get the themes or the message of what I watched.  That is a possibility I can very much accept.  I wanted to love you, Girl From The North Country.  But I don’t think the two of us are meant to see each other again.  It’s not you, it’s me. Maybe. I admire what they tried to do.  And I can’t emphasize enough how much I appreciated this cast and musicians.   However, I think I expected more from this production.

Girl From The North Country plays at Eccles Theater through June 16, 2024. For tickets to remaining shows or information on upcoming shows, click here.

4 Replies to “Girl From The North Country”

  1. I read all about the show and characters before I watched the performance, so I felt like I knew them when they were introduced.
    I cast was amazing. The music and vocals was amazing! I liked the fast-moving pace of going from one character story to the next. I loved the entire performance and would gladly see it again now that I really know what to expect!

    1. The cast and their vocals were very impressive. No doubt about that. Thank you for your comment and insight!

  2. KR- I agree completely with what you said. The cast and musicians were amazing, but the story line was depressing.
    Dylan’s music did not tie into the plot- at all. The music was performed very well, but most of Dylan’s songs were unrecognizable due to the arrangements. (Since I was never much of a Dylan fan back in “the day”, I was OK with that!) In a nutshell, my wife & I felt that this was our least favorite event we have seen since Eccles opened, and we are season ticket holders.

    1. I appreciate your comments Bill. And I have been hearing that same sentiment of this not being a favorite of many Eccles patrons. I respect Eccles for giving us a variety. They’re not all going to be hits. This wasn’t the best, but I feel confident that most of the shows that stop through will be worth going to. Thanks for reading!

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