Monday, July 31, 2017

Depression-Era Duluth Delineated In New Dylan-Themed Musical

Did anyone notice how many references to Shakespeare there were when Bob Dylan won his Nobel Prize for Literature? In addition to both being prolific, it wouldn't be a stretch to have a film about Shakespeare end up with the title He's Not There, since some scholars have questioned the Bard's existence. (I'm Not There explores the various aspects of the enigmatic Dylan's life.)

This weekend I learned that 20 songs from the Dylan catalog have been incorporated into a new musical with its setting being Depression-era Duluth, which coincides with the decade leading up to Dylan's real-life birth. The play, titled Girl from the North Country, is fascinating from a variety of angles. Less than ten days ago I wrote about Woody Guthrie's influence on Dylan, especially in regard to the theme of being a voice for the disenfranchised, the down-and-outers fighting for survival in a hard world. When I read the descriptions of characters thrown together for Girl from the North Country, it's a similar cast of characters.

Michael Billington's review of the play last week described the setting as "a run-down guesthouse where everyone is staring into a bleak future." He goes on to outline the characters:  "Nick, the owner, has to deal with crushing debt, a wife with dementia, a layabout son, and he is trying to marry off an adopted, pregnant, black daughter to an elderly shoe salesman. His guests include a ruined family, a fugitive boxer, a blackmailing preacher-cum-Bible salesman and Nick’s lover, who is awaiting a legacy that fails to mature. Yet for all their failures they still manage, gloriously, to sing."

Dylan's songs and music have been incorporated into Hollywood films so frequently that since 2000 there's probably been at least one a month woven into a film there. Just as Shakespeare is inseparable from theater, Dylan seems to have become equally inseparable from the theatrical arts, whether in celluloid or here on the big stage.

It's unlikely that I'll make it to the Old Vic where Girl from the North Country is playing in London, so I will secretly hope that either Hollywood will translate it to film, or the Duluth Playhouse will take a stab at producing this show. Duluth has the talent to pull it off. (They did Hair a couple years ago.)

Read the full account here: Girl from the North Country review -- Dylan's songs are Depression-era dynamite.

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The Old Vic is proud to present the World Premiere of Girl From the North Country, an electrifying new work from esteemed playwright Conor McPherson along with classic songs from Bob Dylan.

Duluth, Minnesota in the midst of the Great Depression.

A family adrift, their future on a knife edge. Lost and lonely people drifting through rooms of their guesthouse. But Nick Laine thinks he’s seen a way out…

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Not all the reviewers rave, but the idea of it is certainly intriguing, especially if you live in Duluth and just happen to be a fan of Dylan's music.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

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