Review: Girl from the North Country at Pantages Theatre

Girl from the North Country

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I’ll be honest, I went into Girl from the North Country with little to no experience with Bob Dylan’s music. So much of it was new to me. This show performs more like a play with musical accompaniment than a true musical, with the songs being somewhat parallel to the story more than ingrained in it.

Girl from the North Country takes place in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934, in the middle of the Great Depression. Nick Laine, his wife Elizabeth, their son Gene, and their adopted Black daughter Marianne live in a Guesthouse also occupied by a small cast of characters who are all navigating the Depression together.

Girl from the North Country

The Laines are already grappling with 19-year-old Marianne’s pregnancy, Gene’s alcoholism, and Elizabeth’s worsening dementia—but they are soon joined by Joe Scott, a boxer who was famous in the 1920s, trying to regain his career, and Reverend Marlowe, a grimy Bible salesman. Also living at the home are the Burke family with their non-verbal adult son, and Mrs. Neilsen, a widow who is Nick’s love interest.

The show revolves around the lives of these people for the short time they are all together at the Guesthouse, bringing laughter and heartbreak through the complexity of their characters and their relationships during a time of immense hardship.

First and foremost, the cast was exceptional! Their collective talent was truly remarkable and unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. Nearly all the actors showcased their versatility by also serving as percussionists at various points during the performance, some even taking to a small drum kit positioned at the front of the stage. Notable standouts included Carla Woods for her captivating vocals, Jennifer Blood (portraying Elizabeth Laine) for her convincingly nuanced portrayal of a woman navigating life with dementia, and Sharaé Moultrie and Matt Manuel for their commanding vocals and skillful character development.

Girl from the North Country

The rendition of “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?)” was particularly beautiful. The flow of the show was marked by a remarkable blend of nuance and complexity, making it a pleasure to observe each actor’s performance and the evolution of their characters throughout the songs, most of which were performed away from the main stage, using a physical microphone. Haunting harmonies blended expertly with low, almost sepia lighting, really brought the audience into their depression-era world. The second act felt a bit darker, but the characters are so riveting, and the performances so robust, that it doesn’t feel gratuitous. “Forever Young” was compelling and heartwrenching.

Girl from the North Country

If you are a fan of Bob Dylan, as many audience members the night I attended were, you will be completely moved by the arrangements in this show, and how beautifully they accompany the scenes around them. If you are not well-versed in Dylan, this show will feel like a new musical to you, and maybe the music will resonate differently, which could be a good thing. You will be entranced by the performances and feel for the struggles the characters faced in their short time together. Girl from the North Country is one not to be missed.

Girl from the North Country performs at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre for three weeks only, May 14 – June 2, 2024.

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