The Bob Dylan Broadway musical is finally coming home.
Well, home as in its place of ancestry, not where it was born. "Girl from the North Country" was conceived in Dublin before eventually landing on London's West End and in New York City's Times Square.
On Sunday, it launches its Broadway American tour at Minneapolis' Orpheum Theatre, which Dylan once owned.
The jukebox musical reimagines some two dozen songs from the 60-year catalogue of the Nobel-winning Bard of Duluth to tell a hard-bitten but grace-filled story about some restless souls struggling to get by in a boarding house during the Great Depression. The song list includes "Forever Young," "Ballad of a Thin Man," and "Like a Rolling Stone."
The creative team, some of whom are setting foot in Minnesota for the first time, are understandably nervous about the show meeting its hometown crowd. Will everybody recognize these characters as being of Minnesota? Will folks like how the songs have been rearranged? Will this stage version of the North Country ring true?
This Minnesota kickoff is "almost like a pilgrimage," said director and playwright Conor McPherson, who put the musical production together and is spending a week before opening in the Twin Cities working on the show. "We're gonna go to Duluth to see Bob Dylan's house."
McPherson had been to Minneapolis several times before "North Country." The Jungle Theater has produced his plays "Shining City," "The Seafarer" and "The Night Alive," among others. The Guthrie staged "The Birds," his adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's short story that gave rise to the Hitchcock classic.
But he'd always come at times when the hawk was out. "North Country" sprang in part from those wintry memories which he has carried like a painting in his head.
"In Ireland, we get wet weather, but it tends to be dun [greyish-brown]," McPherson said. "In Minneapolis, it's that cold blowing in hard from the north, and snow."
As McPherson tells it, the project began in 2014 when, out of the blue, he got a call from Dylan's camp. Would he ever consider using Dylan's music in a play?
"I thought initially that that sounds like a strange idea," McPherson said. Plus, "I'd never done a musical."
But he pondered the idea while walking near his home in Dublin and had an imaginative flash.
"I saw a guest house in Minnesota during the 1930s with a family at the heart of it," he recalled. "They're looking for somewhere to live. It felt like an Eugene O'Neill play with Bob's songs in it."
McPherson outlined the idea and sent it off. He got a reply shortly thereafter.
"I didn't even know Bob Dylan was going to see it, but he loved the idea," McPherson said. A few days later, there was a knock at his door and a box with a treasure trove of Dylan albums — "50 to 60 of them."
He downloaded the albums onto his iPod, then set about on long walks. The songs suggested scenes, and those scenes, in turn, invited songs. Soon his head was swirling with ideas about people seeking shelter and warmth. As his characters gathered and gave his thoughts propulsion, so did his creative team, including choreographer Lucy Hind, who is British by way of South Africa.
The 1934 setting, in the throes of the Depression and seven years before Dylan was born, help give "North Country" a universality and resonance that was affirmed, sadly, by COVID-19, Hind said.
"The sense of hopelessness and clinging to each other and to life — that felt real again," Hind said.
There also is a social consciousness in the piece that resonates in ways that the creative team had not imagined. "North Country" references the hanging of three Black men in Duluth.
"Being a person who doesn't live in America, I had assumed that the South was where you had the Ku Klux Klan and where all the lynchings happened," McPherson said. "And then we heard about George Floyd."
McPherson said that when he began working on "North Country," he had hoped that it would be a historical piece, "something we could look back from nearly 100 years ago and say, that was then. It was about borders, segregation, division," he said. "But in the lifetime of the show a strange swing has happened in the world."
In a way, the songs and story become more urgent because people can relate to the desire to find community, home and belonging, Hind added. In choreographing the show, she was keen to put all this conflict and dreaming on the characters' bodies.
Some of the Dylan songs in "North Country" have a gospel treatment, giving them a sense of grace and hope. That will have a particular poignancy at the Orpheum, which Dylan owned from 1979-88, a period in which he also was writing spiritual music.
"I Want You" is one of the reworked Dylan songs. Originally upbeat, it is now a tender tune used in a moment between two characters who want to but cannot be together.
"They hold their breath standing in space while the rest of the world moves around them," Hind said.
Their embrace may be against the weight of the world. "Sometimes stillness is as important as movement," she said. "Sometimes all someone wants to do is exhale."
'Girl From the North Country'
Who: Written and directed by Conor McPherson. Music by Bob Dylan.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
When: Oct. 8-14. 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat.
Tickets: $40-$159. hennepintheatretrust.org.