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Girl From the North Country Lights Up the Nashville Skyline at the TPAC

by Rich and Laura Lynch

Girl From the North Country was presented by the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) January 30 through February 04, 2024. More than a dozen Bob Dylan songs were used to tell the tale of wayward travelers who meet at a guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota. The story takes place in 1934 during the Great Depression therefore the Dylan tracks sung by the cast throughout the production are backed by period piece instruments from the 1930s.

In 1969, Bob Dylan travelled to Music City to record an album of material at Columbia Studio A that was released as Nashville Skyline. This was a project that found the folky rocker making a full immersion into country music in search of a new voice notably showcased on the smash hit single "Lay Lady Lay". So, it was a full circle moment to watch the big cast of amazing singers in that same city breathe new life into the legendary troubadour's back catalog in a way that really made Mr. Zimmerman's ample words sparkle and shine - even if the setting and storyline was for a better word - pretty depressing.

As you might imagine a play crafted around the serious songcraft of Dylan and taking place during the Great Depression would be somewhat somber which Girl From the North Country is. Yet, it was still magical and captivating as it captured and documented the full spectrum of the human experience on the TPAC stage. At the start, we were introduced to Dr. Walker discussing the various pains that people face. Many of the troubles that these characters encountered such as discrimination, economic downturns, loss, mental health and soul searching are relatable in the modern era.

Most of the action takes place in the rooms of the guesthouse which is ran by Nick and Elizabeth Laine. They are on the verge of losing their business to foreclosure. Also, Elizabeth is not quite right but she will be the character to shout out the most humorous observations within the production. Their adult children Gene and Marianne are contending with their own dramas. More boarders arrive to tell their tragic tales within the context of Bob's words which are reworked in arrangements of stringed instruments and a simple drum kit. There was some dancing but it was subdued thus keeping with the theme of the various grim narratives that unfolded over two acts of muse and music.

The set design was simple with the cast able to move furniture in and out quickly while singing the classic catalogue. Highpoints included "Slow Train", "Jokerman", "Girl From The North Country", "Hurricane", "Forever Young" and the closing number giving the solid advice to keep on "Pressing On".

Girl From the North Country is a Tony Award-winning musical that the Chicago Tribune called a "Broadway revelation"! It was written and directed by renowned playwright Conor McPherson and features Tony Award-Winning orchestrations by Simon Hale. The play reimagines legendary songs from Bob Dylan as they have never been heard before by a talented troupe of actors and musicians. So come on down to the TPAC to experience this emotional production for yourself.

Thank you to the TPAC for hosting Girl From the North Country. The nonprofit TPAC is located in downtown Nashville in the James K. Polk Cultural Center at 505 Deaderick Street. Since 1980, the TPAC has bolstered the presentation of the cultural and performing arts. They also support the community with teacher resources, professional development opportunities, classroom residencies, and enrichment programs. Each season the TPAC offers an outstanding roster of shows. Coming soon is The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Indecent, Ballet, A Family Day, and The Tina Turner Musical. Please visit the TPAC's website for a full list of upcoming events.

Related Links: For more information on GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Girl From the North Country - Tour | TPAC


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