QPAC presents Girl From The North Country
Since opening at the Old Vic in London in 2017, Girl From The North Country has been nominated for 7 Tony awards including Best Musical. Written and directed by multi award-winner Conor McPherson (The Weir, The Seafarer) Girl From The North Country tells the tale of a group of wanderers crossing paths in a boarding house in depression era Minnesota 1934. Each standing at a desperate point in their lives seeking meaning, fortune and love, this band of misfits have come together seeking proverbial shelter from the storm.
The big appeal of the show however is that all the featured music is reimagined versions of Bob Dylan’s songs. The play is set in Dylan’s hometown and Mcpherson was personally asked by Dylan to rework his songs into a show, having been a fan of Mcphersons previous work.
I was instantly giddy when I sat down to see the old-folk inspired muted sepia tones reflecting the era with simplistic backdrops of old country and aged wallpaper. The deep browns of an old piano to the left and a raggedy 3 piece drum kit to the far right and an old double bass resting towards the back, this style of music isn't just a sound but a look, and a feel and I instantly knew this show would capture its essence. The performance opens with the sombre ‘Sign on the Window’ first lyrics being ‘Sign on the window says "lonely, no company allowed’.
We are introduced to the desperate Nick Laine (Peter Kowitz) who runs a boarding house on the brink of foreclosure by the bank, one of many characters in this play in a similar financial state. His wife who suffers from dementia spends much of the first few acts in the corner amusingly responding to the various conversations happening about her. It took me almost the entire first half to realise it was screen darling Lisa McCune. The play has so many different rich characters with deep backstories that I would take up my word count trying to fit them all into this review so I will summarise them all by saying each couple whether it be the Burke family with their mentally challenged son Ellias, the crooked bible salesmen (Grant Piro) fresh out of the tv show ‘Deadwood’ or Joe Scott (Elijah Williams) a former boxer fresh out of prison, each character could have their own play and have two hours spent fleshing their story out. To a fault, Girl has so many amazing characters that by the end I felt many of their stories had left me wanting to know more about them.
Musically the songs are transformed into something worthy of the stage, often bringing the ensemble cast together for amazing harmonies and thrusting Dylan's usual one man and a guitar style into fiery gospel infused foot stompers, with medley ‘Slow Train Coming/License To Kill’ being a standout performance. By the second half Lisa McCune’s slow burn character comes from and center and she blows the roof off with her performance of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Forever Young’.
Even if you’re not a fan of Bob Dylan, ‘Girl From The North Country’ has plenty to enjoy for everyone, just know it isn't the ‘uplifting’ story the brochure says it is.