Kennedy Center’s Girl from the North Country is Moving and Unforgettable

Woman singing on stage with cast members in background.
Chiara Trentalange (center) and the cast of the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American tour (Photo/Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The thing that Girl from the North Country’s Writer/Director Conor McPherson understands is the intrinsic value of Bob Dylan’s words. The Words! The Words! And how Dylan’s lyrics reflect the pain of growing up in small town Minnesota – the frustration of an artist who saw and struggled and loved and experienced the inequality of poverty in America. Surprised as McPherson was when given the go-ahead from Bob Dylan to use his songs in a Broadway musical, his gift for Irish storytelling made him the ideal candidate to interpret the music as poetic script.

This musical had such an impact on me that I’ve been processing it for a week before penning my review. Mainly because the subject matter and the songs are weighty and complicated and the beautifully drawn characters leap right out at you. You know these people, or you know of them. There is an empathic intimacy within this story and in the telling too.

Man singing center stage while rest of characters sing back up behind him.
Aidan Wharton and the cast of the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American Tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

It is set in Duluth, Minnesota. The year is 1934 as the Great Depression settles heavily upon the nation and those with little to show for their lives of hard work and sacrifice are suffering mightily. The Laine family runs a boardinghouse filled with curious characters down on their luck or running from the law or in love affairs gone sour. Nick and Elizabeth try to keep things in order along with their adopted daughter Marianne and their unemployed son, Gene. But Elizabeth’s mental health is failing, and the place is losing money. Hardships and love affairs threaten to topple the tenuous equilibrium.

One woman singing in microphone
Sharaé Moultrie  in Girl from the North Country at The Kennedy Center.(Photo/Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Pretenders and desperados live amongst them. A fake holy roller priest, a prison escapee, and a doddering shoe store owner who proposes to young Marianne when the father of her yet to be born child leaves town. References are made to the true story in Duluth when a crowd broke into the jail and hung three Black men. It was hard times.

Dylan’s songs are not as he recorded them. Yes, lyric-wise, but not with the same tempo. McPherson gets more heft from slowing them down, changing up some of the notes and phrasing for emphasis and re-imagining their place in the story. You will feel this deeply and appreciate the songs even more when their meaning is placed in the hands, and voices, of this wonderful 17-person cast. When Elizabeth sings Like a Rolling Stone you can feel the undercurrent of trauma, death and mental illness. It is both insistent and poignant.

Group of women singing
The cast of the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Dylan’s words were reflective of society’s drift, the ebb and flow of human involvement, of broken women, beautiful women, men on the fringes of society, his own fallibility and the country’s fragility. This is a thinking person’s production with a world of space within its songs to process its meaning.

Highly recommended. Moving and unforgettable.

With Alan Ariano as Dr. Walker; David Benoit as Mr. Burke; Ben Biggers as Gene Laine; Jennifer Blood as Elizabeth Laine; Matt Manuel as Joe Scott; Sharaé Moultrie as Marianne Laine; Jay Russell as Mr. Perry; John Schiappa as Nick Laine; Chiara Trentalange as Kate Draper; Jill Van Velzer as Mrs. Burke; Jeremy Webb as Reverend Marlowe; Aidan Wharton as Elias Burke; Carla Woods as Mrs. Nielsen;

Soloists/ensemble – Ashley D. BrooksJustin Michael DuvalKelly McCormick and Hosea Mundi.

Music and Lyrics by Bob Dylan; Music Direction by Wiley DeWeese; Sound Design by Simon Baker; Lighting Design by Mark Henderson; Scenic Design by Rae Smith; Orchestrator, Arranger and Music Supervisor, Simon Hale.

Through December 31st at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit

Jordan Wright

Jordan Wright is a noted publisher and writer focused on food, spirits, travel, theatre and lifestyles.  Her writing can also be found on her personal website

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