It may be that the warm glow I felt in the Belasco Theatre listening to “Idiot Wind” transformed into a love ballad, “Duquesne Whistle” as a show tune, and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” as chorus-backed hootenanny comes from my own many years of confirmed Dylan-o-mania, or maybe from knowing all the songs, or perhaps even from my eagerness to welcome the gorgeous new voices that subbed in for Bob’s old man growl. But really — it was just lovely to hear.
Written and directed by Conor McPherson, the musical “Girl from the North Country” drafts twenty-one songs out of the Dylan catalog, from “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965), re-sung as a dirge, to “Duquesne Whistle” (2012). The selection is heavier from 70s-Bob than one might expect: it opens with two slow numbers from 1970’s New Morning, “Sign on the Window” and “Went to See the Gypsy,” and includes both the title number from Slow Train Coming (1979) and, somewhat oddly, three from 1978’s Street Legal: “True Love Tends to Forget,” which was an absolute show-stopper and maybe the most unexpectedly wrenching song of the night, “Is Your Love in Vain,” and “Senor (Tales of Yankee Power).”
The songs graft themselves onto an overflow of stories set in a 1930s boarding house whose owners, as well as its residents, present the full Dylan carnival: a slippery-tongued preacher, boxing ex-con, family with a damaged adult son with a secret, wise old town doctor, &c. Many stories circulate and overlap, but most of the night’s pleasure was watching how each riff would set up another song. Mostly the turns were unexpected, which was nice.
Top singing marks go to Broadway veteran Jeanette Bayardelle, who also belted out “Pressing On” as an encore, though the whole cast was excellent. The most compelling character in the story was Elizabeth Laine, played by Mare Winningham, the owner’s wife whose long standing mental instability represents just one of many crises in the boardinghouse while also making possible a lively, random, surprising performance, including the throw-away unsung non sequitur, “God said to Abraham, kill me a son.”
I’m not sure the story will stay with me. But if you, like me, have been living with and loving these songs for a long time, it’s worth paying Broadway prices to sit in a happy dark room and let them wash over you in new voices and arrangements.
Still in previews, which means it should be belting out gospel Bob and crooning the love songs through the summer!