The standing bass laid across the wood floored stage while a single spotlight shined down upon it, and the cast emerged from the same aisles the audience had just filed in from.
Hitting the stage of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center on Jan. 30, the “Girl from the North Country” tour brings not only a captivating story but also a glimpse of what life was like amid the Great Depression. Filled with a cast of eclectic characters and a catalog of songs that have been reimagined for the stage, the musical inspired by Bob Dylan’s music, “Girl from the North Country” draws audiences in with its nostalgic music and its take on morality, exploring what makes good people turn bad and vice versa.
Unlike many musicals that follow a narrative from beginning to end with all components of the story visible to the audience, “Girl from the North Country” breaks from the status quo, acting more as a slice-of-life story in which you just watch how normal people live their lives dealing with the everyday demons that come with humanity.
Jennifer Blood, who played the dementia suffering matriarch of the family, stole the show, not just in vocal performance but in her ability to speak straight to the audience's heart while also being able to make the theatre erupt into laughter. Blood's commitment to the role and apparent love for the story cannot be denied, and she is one of the many people that made this show about character and connection as successful as it was.
In a musical with many people to meet and to dive into heart first, Conor McPherson, the writer and director, did an excellent job at balancing the story of more than 10 unique and vastly different characters as they all discover who they are and what they really want in a world that does not seem want them.
Unlike a lot of stories that end with resolution or a consolation of some sort, “Girl from the North Country” is not afraid to leave you questioning what could have been if the residents of the inn did not all solely act with self-interest in their heart.
There were several seats that emptied as the intermission began and were never to be sat in again, as for some audience members this approach to musical theatre did not scratch the same itch as Golden Age classics could.
Through songs that acted more as a tonal “cherry on top” rather than a vessel to push the narrative forward like musicals today are known to do, the musical uses its atypical style to ground its plot in realism instead of the flashy elevated nature of the majority of Broadway.
Jukebox musicals, which take music from the real world and facets them with a story fit for the stage, have become more common in recent years as producers and Broadway executives have discovered the money that is just waiting to be tapped into from famous artists. While this type of musical usually depends solely on the likeness of the musicians to flood the ticket booth, “Girl from the North Country” is a fully realized piece of art that could stand alone from Bob Dylan’s work and still wow audiences.
Revolving around the central theme of desperation and its effect on the human psyche, this show offers much more to the table than what would be expected walking into a typical jukebox musical. It is a must-see for those who enjoy trudging through art to find a limitless amount of depth just waiting to be tapped into and an excellent story that does not hold your hand the whole way through.
Be prepared to laugh, cry and question the world around you as this masterful tale of love, hurt explores what drives men mad in a time of economic depression.
Tickets can be bought here.
This article was written by Zach Watkins