David Benoit returns to Boston in ‘The Girl from the North Country’

Aidan Wharton, David Benoit, Jennifer Blood and Jeremy Webb in “The Girl From The North Country”


At first glance, a theatrical collaboration between the acclaimed Irish playwright, screenwriter and director Conor McPherson, and American music legend Bob Dylan might appear an unlikely partnership. However, the resulting project, “The Girl from the North Country” – a play with music – has been termed “profoundly beautiful” by The New York Times.

The national tour of “The Girl from the North Country,” written and directed by McPherson and presented by Broadway in Boston, plays the Emerson Colonial Theatre from March 12 to March  24. (It closed on Broadway in 2022.)

McPherson is known for such gripping dramas as “The Weir,” “The Night Alive,” “Shining City” and “The Seafarer,” while Dylan is renowned for iconic hits like "Forever Young," "All Along The Watchtower," "Hurricane" and "Like A Rolling Stone."

In “North Country,” the time is 1934.  The location is Duluth, Minnesota. It’s the Depression. We witness a motley group of wayward travelers, some passing and some permanent, whose lives intersect in a guesthouse filled with music, life, and hope.

The proprietor of the guest house, Nick Laine, is facing financial ruin as well as family illness.  He and his wife have two children, including an adopted daughter who was abandoned at the guest house as an infant and subsequently raised by Nick and his wife. She is now pregnant and refuses to reveal the identity of the father.

Included among the residents is the Burke family. Mr. Burke tragically lost his business in the crash and also faces the stark reality of financial collapse.

It’s significant to note that “North Country” is not a “jukebox musical.” The Washington Post stated, “While the show features more than a dozen selections from the Dylan songbook . . . McPherson wields those tunes not as plot devices but as expressionistic insights into his characters.”

The tour features Fall River-Somerset native David Benoit as Mr. Burke.  David is a graduate of The Boston Conservatory and will be remembered from his local performances in “Forbidden Broadway” and “Forever Plaid” at The Park Plaza’s Terrace Room as well as the SpeakEasy Stage production of “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.”  He was also seen onstage at Merrimack Rep, Worcester Foothills, Chiswick Park Theatre, Nickerson Theatre, Boston Lyric Opera and others. His subsequent stage credits include Broadway and national tours of “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” “Avenue Q,” “Jekyll & Hyde” and “Young Frankenstein,” among others.


We spoke about “North Country” by phone when the show was in Chicago.  Here’s an edited look at our conversation.  

Q. It must be nice for you to have Boston as a stop on this tour.

A. I’m so happy to come back to Boston.  The last time I played there was 2017 with “Phantom” at the Opera House.  Before that, the last time was SpeakEasy. I think that was 2010. And I’ve only played The Colonial once, and that was with “Avenue Q.”  And I remember I was really moved during the sound check because I had seen so many shows there . . . Even though I moved to New York in 1991 or ’92, I’ve always considered Boston home because I grew up an hour south and went to college there and lived there and worked there a lot.  It's home to me still, even though I’ve been in New York over 30 years. 

Q. It must be especially nice to be cast in an original musical.

A. I’ve gotta tell ya, what a treat . . . It’s such an original piece. And Conor is such an amazing playwright. The Bob Dylan music is crazy off the charts, and these new re-imaginations of Simon Hales’s arrangements and vocal arrangements are beautiful. So, it’s really was a gift. It was totally a gift.

Q. Was Conor McPherson involved very much in the touring production?

A. The original staff put the show up in about three weeks and then he came in . . . It was such a treat to work with him.

Q. Did he offer any special comments or feedback?

A. You know what, he’s a man of minimal words. He gives the actor a lot of freedom, and he didn’t have many notes for me, which was kind of scary to me.  He was just like, “I love what you’re doing. Just steam roll. You’re a steam roller.” Okay, I’m a steam roller (Laughing).  He’s so smart and so economical with his words.  But, boy, does it have gravity and weight when he gives you a note.  I really think the world of him.  I mean, by far, it’s an actor’s dream to play these roles because they’re such flawed, beautiful characters, particularly mine. [Mr. Burke] is a really flawed character, but there’s such beauty in it.  And the fact that it’s original is thrilling. 

Q. Although this is really a period piece, it resonates today with its depiction of poverty and hardship and anxiety. It’s been said that the lonely prairie setting of Duluth is a figurative state of mind for a country overwhelmed by broken dreams.  How have audiences been responding to the show?

A. There are so many stories to follow in the show . . . There are at least four different sub-plots revolving around the Laine family in this boarding house . . . Art really touches the humanity of these people and how (despite) adversity, they use humor and community and laughter and music to overcome.  I think in this post-pandemic world we’re kind of similar, on a similar path.  I actually remember during the pandemic being in line to get into my small supermarket in New York and I was thinking, wow, this is like the Depression. It’s almost like a soup line, waiting to get into my supermarket . . . Something that silly and small and minuscule, I actually use the mentality of that on stage because I really remember that moment. Vividly.  Put yourself in these peoples’ shoes during the Depression.

Q. You’ve got an impressive list of stage credits.  Was there a turning point early on, when you just knew performing would be your profession?

A. You know what’s so funny. I did “Free To Be You And Me” in second grade. And after that, I remember in fifth grade, I watched a play at the Middle School in Somerset, Mass. called “The Jack and the Beanstalk Trial” where they tried Jack for killing the Giant. And I sat there and I thought, “Wow, I could do this a lot better.” Isn’t that awful?  (Laughing). I sat there in judgment of my peers. “I can do this better.” And literally, I did the next musical and I got the bug.  And by eighth grade . . . I remember finding out about The Boston Conservatory and the fact that you could actually major in musical theater. And I decided, I’m going to school there. And that was it.  Senior year I applied to that one school and luckily got in and I remember my guidance counselor Mrs. LaSalle said, “David, do you have a back-up plan? What if you don’t get into the school?”  And I had such an ego.  I said “Mrs. LaSalle, have you SEEN me in plays?  I’m gonna get in.” 

Q. So, it was meant to be.

A. I always sang. My family would just tell me to be quiet because I was singing ad nauseam.   The double album from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the brown album, my grandmother gave me when I was in first grade. I used to play it over and over again, singing every role downstairs in the basement . . . It was in my blood. I couldn’t get enough of it.  Building sets, designing posters, designing costumes, I did all of that as a kid . . . I was lucky enough to work at the Zeiterion Theatre when I was a junior and senior in high school. I guess that’s when I started getting paid for it as a profession . . . It kind of chose me, I can’t envision doing anything else.  It’s my job.


“The Girl from the North Country,” March 12 - 24, Emerson Colonial Theatre.  Info: BroadwayInBoston.com