‘Girl from the North Country’ creates stage magic

Bob Dylan while one of the most popular musical artists of modern time is also known as that songwriter that provides other singers with the material to make perfect versions of his songs. Dylan can still produce the proverbial lump in the throat with his down to Earth lyrics told with scraggly vocals but it’s the abundance of other people performing his songs that people remember.

To wit: The Turtles with “It Ain’t Me Babe;” Hendrix with “All Along the Watchtower;” Baez with “Don’t Think Twice;” The Byrds with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” And the list goes endlessly on.

What a golden opportunity to combine the songbook of Dylan with an abstract depiction of Duluth, Minnesota (Dylan’s birthplace) in 1934 in the midst of the Depression. Girl from the North Country is a stage musical with a bona fide hit playlist set in a flophouse where multiple people seeking shelter from the storm converge while of course warbling Dylan songs.

These aren’t the greatest Dylan hits per se. It’s not unlike if you were to perform a Beatles tribute and play “Hey Jude” and “Within You, Without You” back to back.

Characters, all of who sing and many who play drum or piano or guitar, wander on and off the set. The stage could at any moment be bathed in multiple spinning dots courtesy of mirror balls or a mundane dinner table serving a community dinner.

The character of Elizabeth Laine has the most unique personality, a kind of mother figure that many of the others actually call Mom. The characters blend scenes of dialogue with song. And the songs are fantastically realized.

Of the 22 songs listed in the program I would swear that not all were performed. Yet there are other Dylan-esque moments like using the intro of “Lay Lady Lay” as the opening bars of a completely different song. One thing is certain: when the entire ensemble did a medley of “Hurricane” with “All Along the Watchtower” the atmosphere was electric.

Girl from the North Country casts a mood over the audience. There were moments that existed outside of space and time. The first half felt like it was 20-minutes but when I looked at my watch over an hour had passed.

Girl from the North Country is currently playing at the Hobby Center until Sunday, May 5.

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