5th & Hennepin, Minneapolis. Photo by Sharon Mollerus

How Bob Dylan saved a Minneapolis Theatre

A Minneapolis staple has a Minnesota legend to thank for their survival and the North American Tour premiere of "Girl From The North Country," featuring Dylan’s music, is playing there now.

1 min read

The North American Tour premiere of Tony award-winning musical “Girl From the North Country” launched in Minneapolis Oct. 8 at the theatre once saved by—and owned by—Bob Dylan himself.

Minneapolis’ Historic Orpheum Theatre, part of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, is the site of many Broadway touring shows, but perhaps no tour launch is more appropriate than this show that reimagines 20 legendary Dylan songs.

Dylan fans likely are aware of his Minnesota upbringing (Robert Zimmerman, Dylan’s birth name, was born in Duluth in 1941, and raised in Hibbing) and his year spent in Minneapolis attending the University of Minnesota (1959/1960), where he could be found playing at local coffeehouses and in friends’ homes. A lesser-known Minneapolis-Dylan fact: the historic Hennepin Avenue theatre could’ve been lost to demolition in the late 1970s if not for Dylan’s help. 

He purchased the theatre in time for a reopening July 3, 1979, with the three-week run of the National Touring Company of “A Chorus Line.” In 1988, he and his brother sold the theatre to the City of Minneapolis, and it was renovated and reopened in 1993. In 2005, the city transferred ownership of its theaters to the Hennepin Theatre Trust. If not for Dylan’s generous act, the theatre may not exist today. (More history of the theatre is here.)

“Girl From The North Country” is the first theater piece ever commissioned by the iconic Nobel Prize-winning singer/songwriter. Written and directed by celebrated Irish playwright Conor McPherson, the musicals orchestrations won a Tony Award for Simon Hale. More details on the first North American Tour playing the Orpheum this week through Oct. 14 follow from the Hennepin Theatre Trust release.

Other Dylan-connected spots remain in Minneapolis for fans and visitors to view:

  • The Eduardo Kobra mural, “The times they are a’changin,” is located at Hennepin Avenue & 5th Street (see attached photo)
  • Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house at the University of Minnesota
  • Gray’s Drugstore (Dylan lived in an apartment above this business on the corner of 14th Avenue and 4th Street – it was a restaurant until recently and currently is closed)
  • Orfield Labs (formerly Sound 80 Studios) is where he and his musicians re-recorded half of his “Blood on the Tracks” album in December 1974.
  • “Postively 4th Street” mural near the Varsity Theatre.

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