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Bucks County star shines in “Girl From the North Country”


Long before Chiara Trentalange rocked a role in the Tony Award-winning “Girl From the North Country,” she was just a girl from the north county of Bucks who stepped onto the stage of the Bucks County Playhouse and bet, along with the other bite-sized moptop urchin co-stars, the sun would come out tomorrow.

Boy, did it ever.

At age 12, the Upper Southampton pre-teen resonated with the producers of “Annie” and its audiences as the musical’s orphan July. Later, as a teenager, Chiara landed a cherished lead role in the playhouse’s tap-dance-a-thon as Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street.”

Now it’s on to Walnut Street in Philadelphia and the Forrest Theatre, where the now-30ish actress swings into a role she periodically played on Broadway among other fill-in parts in the COVID-cut-short show.

This time she’s catapulted into the cast as Kate full-time, part of the rhyme and reason and musical poetry that is Bob Dylan’s songbook of the heart and soul.

The touring production, which began Tuesday and runs to March 10, is directed and written by Conor McPherson, with a score of songs by Dylan, the Minnesota native with a Nobel Prize of Literature that’s worth more than a mere mumble in his liner notes of a notable career.

But this is no mere montage musical; indeed, this is a thinking-outside-the-jukebox-musical in which 20 numbers written by Dylan delineate skillfully the pain and pathos of losing lodgers at a Depression-era Duluth, Minn., flophouse.

To be part of such an ensemble onstage is an estimable feat, and the actress got her feet wet early on. Indeed, the young Chiara got more than good advice when she attended Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic School in Southampton; she got the first-hand arts experience much needed at that stage of her life.

“I performed a lot of shows there,” Trentalange said. “And the choir director was so helpful, encouraging me in my direction.”

Later, at Emerson, it was immersion in the glories of musical theater education. Like her character, Kate, who “decided she needs to leave her hometown in the hopes of finding someone she truly loves” and also make a life for herself, Trentalange trudged to Boston, leaving behind the bucolic life for a shot at the limelight.

“Now I love where I grew up — Bucks is a wonderful county to live and learn in,” she said. “But working in theater, the world is your textbook, and Boston...New York...were great for me.”

But, even at the Forrest, she can see the trees of Bucks County in her mind and recall the lovely landscape of learning she was very much a part of.

“Stephen Casey, one of the dance teachers at Bucks County Playhouse, and who gave me the role of Peggy Sawyer in ‘42nd Street,’ taught me so much” and helped give her the confidence and courage to put her best foot forward.

But even with the great education afforded her, some lessons still came hard.

There were times she felt alone and adrift when trying to build a bio that bespoke her background and talents. Finally, Trentalange recalls, she made it to Broadway in a smash hit when, suddenly, like a crashing curtain, COVID collapsed her dreams, shutting down Broadway.

“It would have been easy to just give up” and use the pile of unspent Playbills as a pillow to cushion the shock. But just like Dylan writes in “Like a Rolling Stone” you just can’t give up, she said.

Trentalange also plays up the support she got from family and friends — especially family.

“I come from a big Italian family; they’re so proud of me,” said, particularly referencing parents Vincent and Madalyn.

If the “Girl From the North Country” sings of anything, it’s of the heart’s ability to hurt and heal, she learned. “Dylan’s songs have always been a part of my family’s life,” says the actress. “His lyrics speak to everyone.”

None more lyrically than “Simple Twist of Fate,” in which the vicissitudes of life can eviscerate hopes as much as bestow them.

Trentalange’s theatrical journey — even before “Annie” — began with the Once Upon a Time Players.

“It was such a fun experience to do that,” she said of bringing shows to area nursing homes and nonprofits.

What she learned as a child, she claims, fills her with pride still. The joy, the excitement of theater...“It is why I do what I do now,” she said.

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Michael Elkin is a playwright, theater critic and novelist who lives in Abington. He writes columns about theater and the arts.

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