I returned to the Belasco Theater on Saturday afternoon, my first show on Broadway since the start of the pandemic. It was also one of the last shows I saw before the pandemic: Conor McPherson‘s “Girl fron the North Country.”
McPherson wrote and directed, and used songs from the Bob Dylan catalog, to tell a Depression era tale set in Dylan’s Minnesota. I know my review from opening night was glowing, but a lot of time has passed and I wanted to see this musical again.
What a treat it is, too, a gem that is so moving, profound and entertaining I can’t urge you enough to put on a mask and head on over to the Belasco. “Girl from the North Country” is like a spiritual awakening. There are three nominal stars — Mare Winningham, Jay O. Sanders, Robert Joy, and Marc Kudisch. But there is also a cast full of lesser knowns who should be stars in their own right including Todd Almond, Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Jeannette Bayardelle, Luba Mason, Tom Nelis, and Matt McGrath.
McPherson infuses a kind of bleak narrative of people struggling to survive the Depression with two dozen or song Dylan songs re-arranged gorgeously for theater in gospel, R&B, and country settings. Dylan should sending McPherson roses every day because the playwright-director has revived Dylan’s catalog in the most exciting possible way. The songs include “Like a Rolling Stone” and “I Want You” and even the more recent “Make You Feel My Love.” The orchestration is so exact that even bits of other songs float through instrumentally, like “Lay Lady Lay.”
You will not want to miss Mare Winningham’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” Or Todd Almond’s left curve solo from heaven. Or Luba Mason singing like Janis Joplin and playing drums. Or the heavenly voices of Kimber Elayne Sprawl, Jeannette Bayardelle.
I said back in March 2020 “Girl from the North Country” was the best musical of that season. The show opened, but the Tony Awards cut off didn’t include it with that year’s shows. So it will be a force to reckon with in 2022. I can’t wait to see it again!
UPDATE ABOUT THE MICHAEL JACKSON MUSICAL “MJ”: This is really goofy. Last week, the Michael Jackson musical “MJ” announced the casting of Michael as a child with the Jackson 5.
The main child cast is named Walter Russell III. No one said a word about who he was, and his name sailed right by me.
Guess what? Little Walter, who is 13, is a STAR already. He is literally STEALING the show at the Metropolitan Opera in Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”
I was there two weeks ago. Walter gets a standing ovation. If he’s half as good leading the Jackson 5, “MJ” is going to be a hit no matter how screwy the script is (and I’m hopeful it’s okay. Really.)
Weird that no mention was made of Walter’s career so far, his rave reviews. From the Met to Michael. Now I’m really curious about this musical. It’s going to be good.
PS Twitter handle @andjustice4some notes that Walter shares the same birthday as Michael Jackson. That’s a good omen!