Girl From the North Country is a musical on Broadway in 2020, set in the ’30s and utilizing the catalog of a songwriter who first found stardom in the ’60s. And yet book writer-director Conor McPherson and movement director Lucy Hind found a way to meld the different periods into one memorable evening.
“It can’t feel like a period piece, it needs to feel accessible,” Hind says. Much of her work with the show in its various incarnations (West End, Canada, Off-Broadway, and now Broadway at the Belasco) has been to find ways in which the performers can represent the era without calling attention to it or falling into parody.
“The way I described it was there’s just a formality to interaction [in the 1930s], and our physical formality is much more relaxed,” Hind explains. She points to the roles that long-discarded wardrobe staples such as hats once played in greetings, which today would typically involve more physical contact. Simultaneously, dances were a large part of social interactions of the period. “That’s the kind of worlds we were playing with,” she says.
The Bob Dylan songs that comprise the score added additional layers to Hind’s work with the performers. “Another huge part is keeping the heart of Dylan alive in the movement and their bodies,” she says. “It’s taking [movement] from the ’30s—but only as much as is useful for the story. What it isn’t about is making a piece that is 100-percent period accurate.”
Each new cast member brings his or her own life experiences, and Hind enthusiastically embraces everything they have to offer. She provides them a palette of movements for their character’s race, socio-economic background, and interests, and then works closely with the actor to find a marriage between that and what moves them as people. “It takes time,” she says. “You have to have faith in the process. Sometimes all you can think is, ‘We have to get this right,’ and that’s such a way to kill creativity. It’s such a balance.”
Aiding Hind’s work with the actors are Simon Hale’s arrangements, which make Dylan’s songs feel “timeless.”
“You know when you’re walking down the street with your headphones in and the song just lands at the perfect moment?” she says. “Sometimes these lyrics fit within the narrative and sometimes they float above it, and it has this magical way of connecting that feels kind of intangible. That’s its superpower.
“And that’s so Dylan,” she adds. “It’s all about the work and truth and the music. And that’s what you hold on to.”