When I reviewed “Girl from the North Country” in its 2018 Public Theater presentation, I noted that just the opportunity to hear Bob Dylan’s music and lyrics would be enough of a treat. That still holds true in the new Broadway revival, as does the observation that there is a good musical fit between the Dylan creations and the story by writer-director Connor McPherson. However, in bringing the work to a larger stage, a bit of the impact of the same material in the smaller Public Theater venue has been lost. All seems more spread out and not always as punchy. (“Girl from the North Country” was first presented by the Old Vic in London.)
There have been a few key cast changes in the migration to Broadway from the Public of the story set in a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934 during the depression that gripped the United States. Characters depicted share the struggle to exist economically as well as in their personal relationships.
This time around the role of Nick Laine, the boardinghouse owner who is hard pressed financially, is played by the excellent Jay O. Sanders, who cuts an impressive figure trying to hold things together, including dealing with his mentally screwed-up wife, Elizabeth, again played colorfully by Mare Winningham. Kimber Elayne Sprawl is back touchingly as their pregnant adopted African-American daughter Marianne. But Joe Scott, who pursues her, is this time well-played by Austin Scott. Also new is Matt McGrath as the Reverend Marlowe. But Robert Joy is back as Dr. Walker, whose narration from a side of the stage frames the plot. Marc Kudisch continues to stand out as the egotistical boarder Mr. Burke, with Luba Mason giving her broad portrayal of his alcoholic wife.
The show is again strengthened by broad chorus participation in Dylan numbers that are either rousing or contemplative and several solos are outstanding. Among the more than 20 songs to enjoy are “Slow Train,” “License to Kill,” “I Want You,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “True Love Tends to Forget” and “Forever Young.”
Director McPherson’s staging smoothly integrates the music into the story most of the time. With only one change, the same on-stage musicians from the Public’s presentation are playing the score.
Those who missed the off-Broadway production would do well to see this one, and even those who did see the off-Broadway staging might want to have a second look at this unusual amd rewarding work. At the Belasco theatre, 111 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed March 12, 2020.