The Irish playwright owned about five Dylan albums when he was approached with the idea of writing a musical featuring the legend’s music. As he told Rolling Stone in 2017, he was sent Dylan’s complete catalog so he could upload it on his iPod, shuffle the tracks, and hear all the classics and the lesser-known treasures.
“I never wanted a standard musical,” McPherson said. “It’s a Bob musical. Once you say that, all bets are off.”
The play — which premiered in London in 2017 and ran on Broadway until COVID-19 closures — takes place in Dylan’s hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, during the Great Depression. In it, a dysfunctional family called the Laines lives and tends to a boardinghouse, which hosts a boxer (Joe Scott) and a sleazy preacher (Rev. Marlowe), among other guests. The characters express their thoughts during the show through Dylan’s poetic lyrics, as with the song “Tight Connection to My Heart,” off of Dylan’s Empire Burlesque. That song is performed by Kimber Elayne Sprawl, a.k.a. Marianne Laine.
” ‘Tight Connection’ for me was the thing that really sort of connected me not only to this piece, but reconnected me to my love of Dylan,” says Marc Kudisch, who plays Mr. Burke, a boardinghouse resident who lost all his money in the stock market crash.
” ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’ was such a departure from the way it was on the record in the Eighties,” adds Mare Winningham, who plays Elizabeth Laine alongside Jay O. Sanders as Nick Laine.
As Sanders explains, “It’s something Dylan has in his music where you think of him as a folk artist and poet, and he kicks into this place that’s just electric.”