If you could put Bob Dylan songs into a musical, what would you create?
In 2013, when producer Tristan Baker asked writer and director Conor McPherson this question, here’s how McPherson responded:
“I am thinking of a play dear to Eugene O’Neill. With the love songs of Bob Dylan intertwined. Perhaps located in a Depression-era boarding house in an American town in the 1930s? With a loose family of vagabonds, scoundrels and poor romantics struggling for love and understanding as they feed off their dead end lives, ”McPherson wrote to Baker in an email on Oct. 24, 2013.
“We could have old lovers, young lovers, traitors and idealists rubbing against each other. And at the heart of it all, those songs that emerge from folklore tradition and set the stage for something more individually expressive and timeless.
McPherson stayed true to his vision which became the gripping musical Girl from the north of the country. Weaving a powerful story with songs from Bob Dylan’s extensive catalog, the musical takes place in a dilapidated guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota. Although the story is not biographical on Dylan himself, he spent the first years of his life in Duluth.
It is 1931, winter and the Great Depression is raging. The freezing cold is still present as an eclectic mix of boarders do whatever they can to survive. “It’s like we live among the songs and the lyrics. And all the while we’re trying to stay on top and not sink, ”says Jay O. Sanders, who plays hostel owner Nick Laine on the show. “Considering Conor’s sensitivity and Dylan’s sensitivity, these are people who always fight. against this dramatic gravity that pulls us all.
Now playing on Broadway at the Belasco Theater in New York, the cast includes Todd Almond, Colin Bates, Jeannette Bayardelle, Caitlin Houlahan, Robert Joy, Marc Kudisch, Matt McGrath, Luba Mason, Tom Nelis, Jay. O. Sanders, Austin Scott, Kimber Elayne Sprawl and Mare Winningham.
The depth of Girl from the north of the country is further accentuated by the breathtaking and enlightening vocals singing Dylan’s songs. One of them is Jeannette Bayardelle who plays the role of Mrs. Neilsen, resident of a rooming house. Always full of hope, she is a widow at the pension awaiting her late husband’s will for probate.
“I love that Ms. Neilsen recognizes the power of optimism. It can move energy in any room, ”says Bayardelle who played Celie in The color purple and Dionne in Hair on Broadway and also starred in Rock of Ages, Sister Act and SHIDA, her critically acclaimed musical she wrote. “Ms. Neilsen’s hope and vision brings a positive vibe even if it’s a bit far-fetched. Her strength and courage are very admirable.
When asked if she wanted her to say something to Ms. Neilsen Bayardelle, she added: “Be very careful not to create a false reality with people who don’t want to be involved in your vision,” says -she. “Find your tribe and prosper. “
Jeryl Brunner: How has Ms. Neilsen transformed since you started playing her, especially since all these months have passed since the theater first went black.
Jeannette Bayardelle: Ms. Neilsen has always been very optimistic. After the pandemic, I recognize his optimism as a superpower. I lean into it because I realize that it is the light that makes things brighter even if it is temporary or imaginary. Hope is powerful.
Brunner: What was it like coming back to the show after 18 months and how did you stay creatively nurtured during that time?
Bayardelle: It’s so good to be back on stage in front of a live audience. Being isolated for so long was very difficult. Fortunately, I was able to maximize my time during the shutdown. I learned to play the guitar, I wrote a TV pilot and a book. I have also taken two online courses in music therapy. One at Harvard and the other at Berkley. Most importantly, I continued to work on my financial portfolio and started a retail investment company.
My investments have allowed me to stay fed creatively without worrying about income during the shutdown. So many of my colleagues struggled during this time because they did not have enough savings or had no investment to support them during the lockdown. For this reason, I decided to create an online introductory stock market course that integrates music and animation. Understanding the power of music, I knew it would be a game changer in teaching and introducing new vocabularies and concepts to those who knew nothing about investing. Many want to participate in the stock market conversation, but lack the courage or patience for the presentation. This course makes the stock market acceptable, stable, and fun. Songs alone will teach and motivate people. The launch date is scheduled for February 2, 2022.
Brunner: Can you talk about your meeting with Bob Dylan?
Bayardelle: I had the privilege of meeting Bob Dylan. He was adorable. We spoke for almost 45 minutes. Honestly, I didn’t want the conversation to end. He felt like family. I asked him about his songs. We also talked about the show and its family. It is a day that I will never forget.
Brunner: When did you know you had to be an artist?
Bayardelle: I have always been an artist. As a child, I have always created and played. I would make up pieces and perform them in the living room in front of my family. In 2010 I wrote a musical called SHIDA which has since opened on Broadway, has toured the US and UK. I made my very first presentation of SHIDA for family and friends in my living room. What I do now is what I always have been.
Brunner: What is one of the first times you played?
Bayardelle: Remember my first church performance singing “Through It All” by Andrae Crouch. I was so nervous, but I knew I had to get through it. It was my first lesson in overcoming stage fright.