The cast of the ‘Girl from the North Country’ North American tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Girl from the North Country opened Tuesday at Music Hall by Broadway Dallas. The Depression-set musical written by Conor McPherson with songs by Dylan was a glimpse into the lives of a variety of characters passing through a boarding house in Duluth, Minnesota by Lake Superior.

Narrated by the Laine family doctor, the story centers on Nick Laine who operates the house while his wife Elizabeth is mentally affected, which reduces her to childlike behavior but still an adult’s awareness. Laine seems to be having an affair with the longtime boarder Mrs. Nielsen, a widow waiting on her late husband’s settlement money. Gene is their son who has dreams of being a writer, but is prone to both alcoholism and bad decisions. Marianna is their adopted Black daughter who is also pregnant.

Throughout the show, we meet Mr. Perry, a much older man that Lain is trying to arrange a marriage with Marianne. There is the boxer Joe who arrives with Reverend Marlowe, both with questionable origins just prior to finding the house. The Burke family of three are surviving his loss of business and dealing with their son’s learning disability. The nexus of these folks begins to involve romantic relationships, blackmail and heartbreak.

The story is compelling but with no real stakes made for an entirely different vibe from most musicals. The showtunes aren’t big spectacles. McPherson’s storytelling was well-crafted but gloomy in tone throughout. The show and the songs never really led to a big moment so in many ways, North Country felt more like a dramatic play with songs rather than a musical.

What worked against the show was its intimacy factor or lack thereof. Music Hall was just too big for this slice-of-life story that would have fared better in a smaller venue. The entire show was quite personal and more so when the dynamics narrowed down among the characters. Capturing that was futile.

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That being said, the reworking of Dylan’s songs into showtunes was marvelous. “Like a Rolling Stone” was powerfully played almost like a funeral dirge and “All Along the Watchtower” was the show’s biggest splash of a showtune. The musical featured many of Dylan’s signatures, but its use of deeper and newer cuts gave the show a fresh appeal.

The actors were all beautifully cast embodying their roles wholeheartedly. Sharae Moultrie was rather divine as Marianne who embraced both her pregnant situation and her unlikely family. While it never seemed clear what Elizabeth’s issue was, Jennifer Blood was stellar in the character’s neurodivergence and unpredicatable reactions to surrounding characters. Matt Manuel was the quiet-hero type as Joe vying for Marianne’s attention but also intent on geting out of Duluth. Reverend Marlowe was perhaps the villain of the piece, but Jeremy Webb’s portrayal was steeped in the man’s humanity who does wrong only because he has to to survive rather than out of malice.

Girl from the North Country runs through Sunday.

–Rich Lopez