Interview: Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’ is ‘not the traditional jukebox musical’

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Interview: Bob Dylan’s ‘Girl From The North Country’ is ‘not the traditional jukebox musical’

Girl From The North Country
Credit: Matt Byrne
Words by Ben Lamb

The world of musical theatre keeps growing with musicians of all types putting pen to paper and creating a magical world around some of their most popular records.

Folk icon Bob Dylan and screenwriter Conor McPherson combined their illustrious forces to breathe new life into Dylan’s work through the musical Girl From The North Country.

The show has been making its way around the country playing to sold out crowds who have been moved by the amazing performances of the star-studded cast. We caught up with the breakout star of the show, Chemon Theys, who has been garnering a lot of attention in the entertainment world – recently appearing in shows like Deadly Women, Universal’s We Will Be Monsters, and even Sydney Opera’s Future Remains – and adds another string to her bow by playing Marianne Laine, the adopted daughter of the protagonist’s family.

Check out Melbourne’s latest stage shows and theatrical events here.

Like all great actors, they bring their own experiences to the portrayal. Marianne is a person of colour finding her way in a white family, a sentiment that Chemon is able to relate to.

“I grew up as a black, queer person in Australia surrounded by predominantly white people,” Chemon says. “Marianne is looking for that place of belonging, happiness and joy, and when she does find it – and where I can relate to it – it’s scary to run off and pursue it  but in the end it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.

“Another one of Marianne’s goals is to find love, and it doesn’t have to be romantic, she just wants love, and she feels like it’s being taken away from her.”

The music of Dylan seems to be a perfect fit for the world of theatre, full of lyrical motifs, climaxes and singalongs. However, Chemon notes music plays a different role in Girl From The North Country, which sets it apart from the huge array of ongoing musicals.

“This show is particularly different because it’s not the traditional jukebox musical,” Chemon explains. “It is very much a play; it’s got a rich text, in the way that the text kind of moves the story and then the music just embellishes moments.

“When audiences come and see it, they are sometimes blown away by how different and unique it all is.”

Alongside Chemon, the show features work from prolific Aussie actors Lisa McCune (Sea Patrol), Peter Carrol (The Power of The Dog) and Helen Dallimore (West End’s Wicked), each of which were supportive and have made the experience enjoyable for Chemon.

“This is my first professional show, and it’s not among a younger cast, so working alongside mature icons and legends is amazing,” Chemon adds. “I absolutely love playing alongside Lisa McCune and Peter Carroll, Lisa would have to be the loveliest human that I have ever worked with, she’s just so inspiring and kind.

“They all just remind me to relax and put my heart into the craft. I absolutely relish performing on stage with them every night, you’re just so grateful that you get to be taken under the wing of all these giant icons.”

It’s important to note that Girl From The North Country isn’t a textbook musical plot either, melding darker elements throughout, yet remaining littered with humour, with Chemon defining the show as a “tragic sitcom”.

“You have these funny, light hearted moments, shrouded in a really dark, grim reality of the way the world was back then with racism, the economic collapse, depression and people just barely getting by,” they say.

“One of the messages is to just follow your heart, and follow the ones that you love and care about, because that is what will get you through all those dark times.

“It’s a show with a lot of heart, and it will make you laugh. You’ll feel like you’ve been hugged by the show by the end of it, and you’ll want to be closer to your loved ones.

“It’s a healing show that helps you celebrate life a little more.”

It’s little surprise that Girl From The North Country has been critically-acclaimed, given the mixture of iconic music, emotive-depth and uplifting motifs. At the end of the day, perhaps Chemon sums it up best when they say “it’s a good excuse to come celebrate and support the arts!”

Girl From North Country opens this Wednesday May 4. Grab your tickets here.