Happy 2022 or 2020 too, which I’ve seen it referred to (doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it).
While many of the world stages are still dark and the future of shows unclear, Australian producers continue to bring tasty Broadway morsels to our shores. Girl From The North Country, currently playing at Theatre Royal Sydney as part of the Sydney Festival, is one such show.
Another jukebox musical, this time with the music of Bob Dylan, Girl From The North Country tells the story of the Laine family during the depression years in Minnesota, USA. The Laine family runs a guest inn with semi-permanent residents and itinerant visitors. As expected from a depression-era musical, no one is having a good time, lots of bad things happen, and no one is happy at the end. The only thing that sets it aside from a Sondheim-esque show is the number of deaths.
The show is loosely narrated by Dr Walker (played by Terence Crawford), who you see more of in character than in the narration role, and the show finishes with him narrating from the grave. While the Broadway and West End reviews rave about this intricately crafted production, I felt it worked a) well as a play with music and b) the music was great but c) at times it felt like someone had made a list of favourite Bob Dylan songs and then tried to piece a show together around it, which didn’t make sense. At two different points in the show, they had back-to-back songs which weren’t blended but just abruptly stopped and started like a new DJ at a lousy nightclub.
As with most transfer shows, where we see exact replicas of the Broadway or West End versions, there was little space for Australian creatives to come into their own. However, unsurprisingly, the Australian cast grabbed their characters with both hands and put on stellar performances.
With stage and screen powerhouse names such as Peter Carroll (Mr Perry), Helen Dallimore (Mrs Burke), Callum Francis (Joe Scott), Zahra Newman (Marianne Laine), Christina O’Neill (Mrs Neilsen), and Lisa McCune (Elizabeth Laine), you would be unsurprised that their storytelling was paramount. Lisa’s career “Rain man” moment delicately infused the storyline with comedic moments while portraying deep-seated sorrow and mental health.
There was also solid ensemble singing from the whole cast, with the ensemble members being used more as stagehands rather than progressing the story. It’s probably the least I’ve seen of an ensemble being used in the story’s narrative.
If you love Bob Dylan, you’ll be bopping along through the show (ask the Dylan fans sitting in row B). If you like to see the latest offerings from the world’s stages, then it’s worth the watch, and if you weren’t sure about seeing it, the performances from some of Australia’s best talent make it an enjoyable night at the theatre.
– The other Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig is a regular on the Sydney Arts scene after living, working, and performing in London. He has a long history with theatre, and when not dabbling in the arts (which rarely ever happens), he works in scientific research and loves to travel the world trying new gin. Follow him on all the socials @talldancraig
Girl From The North Country runs for 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval) and is playing at the Theatre Royal Sydney until 27 February 2022. The show will then move to Adelaide and Melbourne. Tickets are available on the Theatre Royal Sydney website.
Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of TS Publicity.
Image credit: Daniel Boud.