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Why ‘North Country’ and ‘Hangmen’ struggled on Broadway

Broadway's "Girl from the North Country"
Austin Scott and Kimber Elaybe Sprawl in Girl From The North Country on Broadway.
Photo by Matthew Murphy/Provided

Last weekend marked the final performances of the musical “Girl from the North Country” and the black comedy “Hangmen.” Both were new (or at least newish) Broadway shows that enjoyed highly-acclaimed English debuts and sold-out limited Off-Broadway runs and then became victims of the pandemic shutdown and struggled to recover and regain momentum upon reopening.

Had circumstances been different, both might have won major Tony Awards and enjoyed commercial success.

Due to its unusual nature (as a mysterious kitchen-sink drama incorporating Bob Dylan songs), “Girl from the North Country” was never going to be a long-running mainstream hit, but it still deserved better.

Following a 2017 London debut, “Girl from the North Country” played Off-Broadway’s Public Theater in fall 2018. But rather than transfer immediately to Broadway, its producers waited a full year, which likely robbed it of momentum.

Had Broadway not shut down just a week after its March 5, 2020 opening night, the magnificent production probably would have enjoyed healthy grosses for at least a few months. Instead, when it reopened in the fall of 2021, it had to compete with returning blockbusters and all-new shows and deal with the havoc of the Omicron variant. After closing in January, it returned in April for a short encore run. (In total, it had three Broadway opening nights.)

Had it not been for “A Strange Loop,” “Girl from the North Country” might have won the Tony for Best Musical over “MJ” and “Six.” However, technically speaking, “Girl from the North Country” opened in time to be eligible for the 74th Tony Awards (honoring the 2019-20 season), but was disqualified because an insufficient number of nominators got to see the show before the shutdown. Otherwise, it might have won the Tony for Best Musical over “Moulin Rouge!”

The cast of “Hangmen”Photo by Joan Marcus

“Hangmen” debuted Off-Broadway back in winter of 2018, with Johnny Flynn stealing the show in a breakout performance as the menacing Mooney. But rather than head straight to Broadway, “Hangmen” held off for two years, with Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) coming in to replace Flynn. When the shutdown began, “Hangmen” was still in previews.

Initially, the show’s producers decided that the production would not reopen after the shutdown. However, two years later, they reversed course and announced that the show would return after all, with Alfie Allen (“Game of Thrones”) playing Mooney. Due to a sizable grant through the Save Our Stages Act, it needed to open before the end of the 2022 season.

In spite of great word of mouth, “Hangmen” failed to gain traction as numerous shows opened all at once in April. It played to half-empty houses throughout its limited run and lost the Tony for Best Play to “The Lehman Trilogy.”

Bottom line: succeeding on Broadway largely depends on timing, competition, and luck. That being said, both shows could still score popular success elsewhere, especially “Girl from the North Country,” which has been produced internationally, was filmed live in April for future release, and is expected to launch a national tour next year.

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