“The Burnt Part Boys” with book by Mariana Elder, music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen is a coming of age musical set in the early 1960’s West Virginia coal country. Four boys, and a young woman they run into, travel up a mountain to the Burnt Part, a collapsed coalmine that took all but one of their father’s lives. During the journey, and once they arrive at their destination, they are all forced to confront their memories and fears.
Director Richard Israel’s blocking starts out very presentational and stilted, but as the show warms up it becomes more relaxed and there are several parts that are very clever. The river crossing and climbing of the last summit of the mountain are both visually dynamic and exciting. Israel’s use of the space is great taking advantage of Will Pelligrini’s inspired set design. Pelligrini’s set is composed of several varied height platforms with shifting ramps and planks to change the configuration and accommodate the expedition of the kids.
Vocally this cast is outstanding, and for the most part the performances are of equal caliber. Adam Dingeman, as Dusty, does a fantastic job as the quirky sidekick. His energy is infectious and his solo is both touching and beautiful. Honorable mentions go to Joe Donohoe as Chet and Matt Musgrove as Miner #1/Fantasy Dad/Pete & Jake’s Dad for their superb characterizations.
The script tells a stereotypical coming of age quest and Mariana Elder does little to veer from that formula. The fantasy sequences sprinkled in, to serve as a guide for Pete’s journey, are fun, but do little to thematically advance the plot. The issue of fate and yearning for a different life is raised, but there is no action or follow through on this other than throwing the longing up into the ether and hoping for the best. The ending feels equally unresolved in that it seems like a happy ending, as long as you’re willing to ignore the fact that there are going to be severe consequences for the kids’ actions that will most likely adversely affect them for the rest of their lives. While the music is beautiful and performed wonderfully by the live band, it is also repetitive to the point that each number could be turned into a sing-a-long by the end.
“The Burnt Part Boys” is a fun romp through the woods with absolutely gorgeous vocals, but the script and music lack the sophistication and depth now commonly seen in musicals. It could definitely use a little more meat on its bones to flesh out the story.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News