Right before Broadway shut down the glorious musical "Girl From The North Country" opened to great acclaim. In the haunting show, writer/director Conor McPherson weaves together a powerful story which intermingles songs from Bob Dylan’s vast catalogue.
The musical takes place in 1934 at a run-down flophouse in Duluth, Minnesota. Although the story isn’t biographical about Dylan himself, Dylan actually spent the first six years of his life in Duluth. The Great Depression is raging. It's wintertime. The winter chill is ever present as an eclectic mix of boarding house residents are doing all they can to survive. "It's like we are living among the songs and the lyrics. And all the while we're trying to hold ourselves above and keep from sinking down," says Jay O. Sanders who plays boarding house proprietor Nick Laine in the show. "Given Conor's sensibility and Dylan's sensibility, these are people who are always fighting against that dramatic gravity that is pulling us all."
This December 15 viewers can get special insight into the show with “Road To The North Country: Interpreting Dylan.” This free virtual event will begin streaming live at 7:30 PM ET on The Bob Dylan Center’s Facebook Page. Presented by the Bob Dylan Center, the show will feature "Girl From The North Country" cast members Todd Almond, Jeannette Bayardelle, Colton Ryan, Kimber Elayne Sprawl, and Mare Winningham.
This exclusive one-hour panel discussion will be moderated by theater and music journalist, Elysa Gardner ("USA Today," the New York Times, New Yorker). They will discuss interpreting Bob Dylan’s words and music, share some videos of the cast performing songs featured in the show, including content created during the shutdown and BLM movement.
Throughout "Girl From The North Country" the vast catalogue of Bob Dylan's songs are sung by the most illuminating voices. Jeannette Bayardelle plays the hopeful boarder Mrs. Neilsen. She is a widow at the boarding house waiting for her late husband’s will to clear probate. Some of Bayardelle’s prior credits includes "Hair," "The Color Purple," "Shida," "Rock of Ages" and Disney’s "The Little Mermaid III."
Jeannette Bayardelle at an event for the musical "Girl From The North Country" at The
Bitter End in New York City. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel.)
Jeryl Brunner: What went through your mind when you first heard about "Girl From The North Country"?
Jeannette Bayardelle: I am one of the original cast members who did the reading in New York. I remember my agents told me about it and I thought, Bob Dylan music. Okay. I'll look at the material. Then I began to go over the work and listened to the songs and was blown away. I said, “Oh my God, I don't know what this is, but I'm so happy that this gift came to me!” I knew early on that it was a gift.
Jeryl Brunner: What is it about the production that makes it a gift?
Jeannette Bayardelle: There’s something about this show which happens over and over again. There's something spiritual about "Girl From The North Country" that I can't explain. When I looked at the material at home, I felt that feeling. Especially when I listened to “Joker Man.” I felt it in my heart.
Then we got to rehearsal, started going over it and did the reading. I thought, this is amazing. Conor, our director and playwright, is brilliant. I believe that is part of why we have such a wonderful experience. Because it starts at the top. I think of his heart and the way he embraces us and allowed us to explore these characters. I have never really worked with someone like that. So every day I'm feeling how special it is. Even today, talking to you, is a special moment.
Jeryl Brunner: What is your connection to Bob Dylan?
Jeannette Bayardelle: I’m a fan, not only because of his music, but because of his heart. I went to his concert and had an opportunity to sit and talk with him. He is amazing. He loves his family. He's just amazing. I think of how down-to-earth and loving he is. It was like talking to a family member. I felt like saying, “Let’s get some pizza, We're going to be here all day.” But that made it much more special. A lot of times you meet people who are icons and they disappoint. He didn't disappoint. He was loving. I'm thankful for his gift and for him, putting out what was inside of him so that we can all receive and feel the joy of it.
Jeryl Brunner: What qualities does Mrs. Neilsen have that you adore?
Jeannette Bayardelle: I love the fact that she's a woman with a plan. No matter what she goes through, she's like, you know what, I have a plan for that. We're going to do A, B, C, D. She's very similar to me. I'm always coming up with a plan, no matter how bad things get I'm a solution finder. And she sees the good in people. She's the glue. She's the one who knows almost everybody's story. She got shoulder to a cry on. She's going to rub your back. I love her.
Jeryl Brunner: Can you talk about the first Broadway show you saw?
Jeannette Bayardelle: I am born and raised in New York and I believe it was the straight play, "Having Our Say." I thought, OK. I like this. I want to do that. I believe I was in High School. I remember I loved it. It was about the Delaney Sisters and sisterhood. And I have sisters. We are very close. So I remember thinking that they reminded me of my sisters. I would probably be like that with my sisters when I am that age.
Jeryl Brunner: Do you remember one of the first times you were on stage?
Jeannette Bayardelle: That would be church. I started singing in church at the New Covenant Christian Church in the Bronx when I was about five-years-old. I knew then that this was something that I wanted to do. Although I felt like I had to fight stage fright. But I knew I enjoyed sharing my gifts with others and seeing how they responded to what I was giving out.
Jeryl Brunner: Why do you think Girl From The North Country is special?
Jeannette Bayardelle: I believe this show is so different from anything out there. It is talking about survival. I think of the way that Conor has put it together in a genius way. It's like watching a movie with a beautiful Bob Dylan soundtrack.