Music by Chris Miller
Lyrics by Nathan Tysen
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Music direction by Nicholas Davio
Produced by Griffin Theatre Company
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Sad coal miner story soars with fine melodies
Griffin Theatre has found another little gem of a show with The Burnt Part Boys. It is a bluegrass folk operetta set in coal mining country in 1962 in West Virginia ten years after a devastating mine explosion and fire killed five miners. We meet the two surviving teenage sons of one of the killed miners – Peter (Charlie Fox) and Jake (Mike Tepeli). The kids are still effected by the loss of their father ten years earlier. When the mining company is about to reopen the mine that killed their father, Jake sees it has progress and work for him and his pal Chet (Margan Maher). Pete believes the mine is a shrine that would be desecrated by reopening. He, with help from his buddy Dusty (Max Zuppa), set out on a treacherous journey to the mine to destroy whats left of it. Along the way they encounter the Tomboy Francis (Hannah Kahn) who cons them into making her their guide to the hard-to-reach mine.
This 90 minute one act is almost completely sung through making it more of an operetta than a standard musical. The cast sing much of their dialogue and deftly express their emotions via singing. Much of the songs set or define the mood or the action of the story. Three, four and five part harmonies marvelously tell the story. There are personal solos that feature the strong vocal chops of most of the cast. Young Charlie Fox, as Pete, exhibits his talent both as an actor and as a singer. Mike Tepeli and Paul Fagen sang with verve while Max Zuppa both played the saw and offered some wacky comic moments.
The string quartet (violin, viola, double bass and acoustic guitar) produced rich bluegrass country music most appropriately to the piece. Despite the sameness of much of the score and the singing style, the haunting mood of the show through the music and lyrics (Miller & Tysen) gave the operetta a genuine rural tone that served the show well. The soaring harmonies and moving emotions evoked and defined the sadness of mining life in the hills of West Virginia.
The show showcased several new talents, especially Charlie Fox and Max Zuppa. The Burnt Part Boys reminds me of Floyd Collins – both use folk styled operetta motifs. Fine voices in harmony are legitimate means for storytelling. They capture the spirit of the miners and their children. This show deserves an audience.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 18, 2012
For more info checkout The Burnt Part Boys page at theatreinchicago.com
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL