Bob Dylan has signed off on moving “Girl From the North Country,” a new musical fashioned around his song catalog, to Broadway in the spring, sources tell The Post.
The musical, which debuted last year at the Old Vic in London, opened to strong reviews this week at the Public Theater. There isn’t a seat to be had for the rest of its run. (It closes Dec. 23.)
Its British producers are scrambling to raise money to move the show to the Walter Kerr Theatre, where Bruce Springsteen has been holding court for a year.
But Shubert Alley cynics are skeptical about the show’s chances outside the rarified atmosphere of the Public, notwithstanding a review from Times critic Ben Brantley, who called the show “bleak,” “beautiful,” “haunting” and “fatalistic.”
There is, he wrote, “an atmosphere of despair that finds grace in a communion of voices.”
I haven’t seen “Girl From the North Country,” but whenever I come across a phrase like “grace in a communion of voices,” I think I’d rather be at “Mamma Mia!”
A source in the show says, “It’s weird. And depressing.”
A shrewd Broadway investor who’s seen it says: “The show is a total, crashing bore that will die on Broadway.”
That sounds harsh, but here’s a description, so you judge:
The show is set in Minnesota in a brutal winter during the Great Depression. The lead character manages a run-down boardinghouse full of tenants who can barely pay the weekly rent. There’s an alcoholic, an ex-convict, a woman suffering from dementia, an unwed pregnant young woman and a morphine addict.
Their lives are “blighted,” Brantley says.
(At this point I’m ready for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”)
The sad and lonely owner of the boardinghouse hooks up with a tenant who says she’s about to come into money. A hidden crime comes to light, a blackmailer turns up and somebody dies.
Along the way, one character sings an angsty version of “Like a Rolling Stone,” and another gives a plaintive rendition of “Forever Young.”
Get out your tap shoes!
Conor McPherson wrote the script. His plays include “The Weir,” “Shining City” and “The Seafarer.” They’re fine works, but bleak, bleak, bleak.
“Girl From the North Country” is the essence of a Public Theater show. It’s about inequality and the awfulness of capitalism. Critics can compare it to the Trump era. Loyal Public subscribers feel they’ve had a dose of Important Theater with some Dylan tunes that will remind the of their hippie days.
Ah, but once the raves come in, everybody sees dollar signs and wants to make the move to Broadway.
The trouble is, depressing shows about “blighted” lives don’t get much traction in the commercial theater.
“Sweat,” Lynn Nottage’s fine contemporary play about blighted lives, flopped last season. John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Depression-era musical, “Steel Pier,” was a disaster back in 1997; their compelling, 2010 “Scottsboro Boys,” about the railroading of innocent black men, lasted two months. A revival of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” also set during the Depression, ran for just a week in 2009.
And Dylan doesn’t have much of a track record on Broadway. “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Twyla Tharp’s musical inspired by his songs, was re-christened “The Times They Are A-Ending” when it closed after a handful of performances in 2006.
But the scramble is on to move “Girl From the North Country” to the Great White Way.
Let’s see how she does.
You can hear Michael Riedel weekdays on “Len Berman and Michael Riedel in the Morning” on WOR radio 710.
By Michael Riedel