On Stage: ‘The Girl From the North Country’ at The Forrest Theater

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Chiara Trentalange and Ben Biggers in The Girl From The North Country, which is now running at The Forrest Theater.

Philadelphia’s Broadway season of shows at the Miller Theater, Academy of Music and Forrest Theater fortunately has some new touring Broadway shows that are playing in Philly for the first time – like “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Mean Girls,” “Company,” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

Another debut is on tap when Ensemble Arts Philly and The Shubert Organization present “The Girl From The North Country” now through March 10 at the Forrest Theater (1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia).

This is the Philadelphia premiere engagement of the Tony Award®-winning musical, which was written and directed by celebrated playwright Conor McPherson and features Tony Award®-winning orchestrations by Simon Hale.

“Girl From The North Country” reimagines 20 legendary songs of Bob Dylan as they’ve never been heard before, including “Forever Young,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Hurricane,” “Slow Train Coming,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

One of the key roles – Kate Draper – is performed by an actress from the Delaware Valley – Chiara Trentalange, a graduate of Gwynedd Mercy Academy and native of Southampton.

“I auditioned in September 2019 and got the call in October that I got the part,” said Trentalange, during recent tour stop in Greenville, South Carolina. “I was the understudy for Kate Draper on Broadway and was dance captain for the show.

“We had rehearsal in the winter. Then we spent a week on Broadway before COVID closed everything down. That was a crazy time.

“We expected to be back in two weeks but that never happened. Now to be on the road with this show is great.”

Like many people, Trentalange was unfamiliar with “Girl From The North Country.”

“All I knew was that it was written by an Irish playwright and had music by Bob Dylan,” said Trentalange, who graduated from Emerson College with a B.F.A. in Musical Theater. “The show is set in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934. The story is not about Bob Dylan. It just uses his music to tell the story.”

The setting takes place on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth in the winter of 1934 and America is in the grip of the Great Depression.

The story is narrated by Dr. Walker, physician to the Laine family. Nick Laine is the proprietor of a rundown guesthouse. The bank is threatening to foreclose on the property, and he is desperate to find a way to save his family from homelessness.

His wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from a form of dementia which propels her from catatonic detachment to childlike, uninhibited outbursts which are becoming difficult to manage. Their children are Gene, who is in his early twenties, and their adopted daughter, Marianne, who is 19.

Marianne is five months pregnant, and the identity of the father is a mystery she guards carefully. Nick is trying to arrange a marriage between Marianne and a local cobbler, Mr. Perry, in order to secure her future.

The social awkwardness is complicated by the fact that Marianne is a black girl living with a white family. She was abandoned in the guesthouse as a baby and brought up by Nick and Elizabeth.

Gene is unable to get a grip on his life, and veers between ambitions of becoming a writer and debilitating alcohol binges, a situation not helped when his sweetheart, Kate, announces she is marrying a man with better prospects.

Nick has become involved in a relationship with a resident of the guest house, Mrs. Neilsen, a widow who is waiting for her late husband’s will to clear probate. They dream of a better future when her money comes through, although she scolds Nick for his constant pessimism.

Also staying at the house are a family, the Burkes. Mr. Burke lost his business in the crash. His wife, Laura, and his son, Elias, share a room upstairs. Elias has a learning disability and the family struggles to come to terms with their reduced state.

Late at night, during a storm, a self-styled reverend bible salesman, Marlowe, and a down-on-his-luck boxer, Joe Scott, arrive looking for shelter. The arrival of these characters is a catalyst, changing everything for everyone in the house.

“There are a lot of main characters – 9-10 principal characters,” said Trentalange. “There are the two families that live in the house, two newcomers, the old man in the shoe repair shop and me, who is in a relationship with the young man in the family.

“My character comes in and highlights Gene’s story. ate has a hard outer shell. She comes alive in an awkward intense scene when she tells him that she is going to move away.”

“Girl From the North Country,” which had its Broadway run cut short a month in due to the pandemic, reopened at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in October 2021. It was the first Broadway show to reopen after the Coronavirus pandemic forced theatres to close in March 2020.

The “Girl From The North Country” acting company includes Alan Ariano (Dr. Walker), David Benoit (Mr. Burke), Ben Biggers (Gene Laine), Paul Blankenship (Offstage Cover), Jennifer Blood (Elizabeth Laine), Ashley D. Brooks (Ensemble), Justin Michael Duval (Ensemble), Rayla Garske (Swing), Matt Manuel (Joe Scott), Kelly McCormick (Ensemble), Sharaé Moultrie (Marianne Laine), Hosea Mundi (Ensemble) Warren Nolan Jr. (Swing), Ali Regan (Swing), Jay Russell (Mr. Perry), John Schiappa (Nick Laine), Chiara Trentalange (Kate Draper), Danny Vaccaro (Swing), Jill Van Velzer (Mrs. Burke), Jeremy Webb (Reverend Marlowe), Aidan Wharton (Elias Burke), and Carla Woods (Mrs. Neilsen).

“Girl From The North Country” features scenic and costume design by Rae Smith; orchestrations, arrangements, and music supervision by Simon Hale, with additional arrangements by Simon Hale and Conor McPherson; lighting design by Mark Henderson; sound design by Simon Baker; movement direction by Lucy Hind; associate direction by Barbara Rubin; and music direction by Timothy Splain. Girl from The North Country is produced by Runaway Entertainment.

The “Girl From The North Country” Original Broadway Cast Album was a 2022 GRAMMY Award® nominee for “Best Musical Theater Album.”

The touring company has a cast that is now very familiar with the show.

“Four of us are from the Broadway cast – from COVID until the end,” said Trentalange. “It’s so beautiful to come back.”

“Girl From The North Country” was Trentalange’s first Broadway show. Her first show was “Annie” at the Bucks County Playhouse when she was 12. Her first paid theatre role was at the same theater as Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street” six years later.

“This is a very emotional show,” said Trentalange. “The audience members all get different things. There is something for everybody. You’re on this ride so you do want to pay attention.”

Even Dylan himself is a fan of the show.

In an interview with The New York Times, Dylan said, “Sure, I’ve seen it, and it affected me. I saw it as an anonymous spectator, not as someone who had anything to do with it. I just let it happen. The play had me crying at the end. I can’t even say why. When the curtain came down, I was stunned. I really was.”

Video link for “Girl From The North Country” – https://youtu.be/8YsFznBBLfo.

The show will run now through March 10 at the Forrest Theater,

Ticket prices start at $45.

On February 24, Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) is presenting a concert by Early Times.

Early Times

Early Times is a good name for a band which specializes in original rock and soul music. Early Times could also be a fitting nom de plume for a musical artist with a distinct individual style that spans genres.

“Early Times is my real name,” said Times, during a phone interview Monday from his home in Brewster, New York. “It’s the name my parents gave me. It’s on my birth certificate.”

Early Times not only has an original name, he is an original who has put his imprint on music in a lot of ways.

Times is a blues musician, songwriter, and radio host who has been on Sirius XM since 2001. He is also a veteran rock and jazz musician. Early Times and the High Rollers are a NYC-based band who specialize in original rock and soul music.

“Just out of high school in 1988, I was playing in jazz jams for two nights a week, blues two nights a week and rock two nights a week,” said Times, who plays guitar and writes. “I made it my mission to learn a lot of different styles. I started touring in the late 90s with E.C. Scott.”

“In 2001, I was hired by Sirius XM to work on the Sirius blues show. I stepped away from live playing for a while because I had to be at the studio every day.”

Times, who graduated from Hunter College with a degree in media studies, helped initiate a new wave of broadcasting when he debuted on Sirius Satellite Radio. He hosted a daily show on Sirius Blues and over a seven-year period hosted acts such as Buddy Guy, John Hammond, Jonny Lang, Elvis Costello, and Allen Toussaint.

Before leaving his home state of California, he was awarded Best Guitarist in the Sacramento Music Awards. He then joined E.C. Scott’s band and toured internationally and recorded two CDs with Scott for the Blind Pig Label.

“I used to have to go to Rockefeller Center every day,” said Times, who moved from his hometown Sacramento to New York in 1998. “I was able to do the shows remotely.

“I’ve got an exterior building – an old garage, I can do my radio work and some recordings there. With remote, I have a lot more freedom. In 2022, I started to tour again. I do have a set band – keyboards, drums and bass. Our music is bluesy and rock-and-roll.

“I’ve got quite a few albums – maybe 15. The first came out in 1992. My most recent albums are ‘The Corner’ in 2021, which did really well and got good radio airplay, and ‘Electric City’ in 2023. ‘Electric City’ had a different band with Anton Fig, Eliza Neals and Bobby Rush.

“As we’re speaking, I have a new album arriving at my place. It’s slated for release on May 3 on Sanctuary. It’s an organ trio like Jimmy Smith’s soulful blues jazz.

“It’s a departure for me. It’s all original soulful jazz. It’s called ‘Zodiac Griot’ – telling stories through the music. The Hammond B-3 is generally a part of my sound. I play synth as well. I usually play guitar in the band.”

Video link for Early Times & The High Rollers — https://youtu.be/ervG_aHw1W0.

The show at Jamey’s on February 24 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Another show at Jamey’s House of music this weekend will take place on February 23 with The BlackTails as the headliner.

With musical influences drawn from American Roots Music to West Coast Swing, Gypsy Jazz, Latin, Surf Rock and Electric Blues, The BlackTails have been inspiring audiences with their high energy live show since their 2004 launch in New York City. Playing to sold-out audiences at the world-famous Iridium to rocking music festival stages, The BlackTails have drawn a diverse following around the world.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Jamey’s features a popular “Jazz at Jamey’s” on Thursday featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

Every Sunday, Jamey’s presents “SUNDAY BLUES BRUNCH & JAM” featuring the Philly Blues Kings.

This is the final weekend for theater fans to see a performance of the Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) production of “Hello Dolly!”

The musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play, “The Matchmaker,” which is a comic and romantic story of the exploits of Dolly Gallagher-Levi, a matchmaker and “woman who arranges things,” will run now through February 25.

It seems that everybody is familiar with “Hello Dolly!” in one form or another – especially the Academy Award-winning film and the hit Broadway musical.

It’s hard not to be familiar with the song, “Hello Dolly!”– at least with the tune’s opening lines… “I said hello, Dolly; Well, hello, Dolly; It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.”

The cast at Candlelight features Rebecca Schall as Dolly Gallagher Levi, Johnny Fernandez as Horace Vandergelder, Jared Calhoun as Cornelius Hackl, Neena Boyle as Irene Molloy and Shawn Weaver as Barnaby Tucker.

“Hello Dolly!” tells the story of widow Dolly Gallagher Levi, a strongminded matchmaker who arrives in New York to “help” Horace Vandergelder, a curmudgeonly and very wealthy widowed shop owner, find a new wife — while secretly plotting to marry him herself.
Meanwhile, two of Vandergelder’s comedically enriched employees leave the shop abandoned and head out to the city in an effort to find adventure. Often referred to as “Broadway’s Greatest Musical”, “Hello, Dolly!” features sweeping dance numbers, hilarious missteps, endearing chaos and, of course, love.

Schall gives a spellbinding performance in the title role – exhibiting the vocal chops and acting skills to capture the spirit of Dolly. Weaver, a Lincoln University graduate, and Calhoun sparkle in their roles as Vandergelder’s store employees from Yonkers who experience the Big Apple for the first time.
“Hello Dolly!” became one of the most iconic Broadway shows of the latter half of the 1960s, running for 2,844 performances, and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history for a time.

Over the years, “Hello Dolly!” has featured many of Broadway’s top leading ladies, including Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Pearl Bailey, Tovah Feldshuh, Bette Midler and Betty Buckley.

“If anything, we’re still focused on the stage version rather than the film version,” said Schall, whose television credits include “Boardwalk Empire,” “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “In Case of Emergency,” “Julie and Julia,” and “Petuna.”

“There definitely is a difference between stage and film.”

Audiences love the character Dolly, and Schall offers her take on why.

“Dolly is happy, exuberant and effusive,” said Schall. “She knows what she wants, and she goes for it. She’s a bundle of energy – and a good person.

“I bring a sense of quirkiness to the role. I agree one thousand per cent with her passion for helping others – for helping other people get better.

“One reason audiences love the show is the music. They know all the songs. The music is unbelievable – and the script is very well-written. This show is fun. It’s just a beautiful show.”

“Hello Dolly!” is running now through February 25 at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre.

Tickets, which include dinner, beverage and free parking, are $70.50 for adults and $35 for children (ages 4-12).


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