Review by Tulis McCall
(26 May 2010)
I had high hopes with “God’s Eyes” the opening number of this show. There is something quite wonderful about men singing four-part harmony with nothing but their voices to guide them. The music and orchestration in the production are superb. The story, however, is merely mediocre and the outcome of the combination is that the story comes in a distant second.
This is a timely tale of the lives of miners in West Virginia. In 1952 the South Mountain mine collapsed and twelve men never made it out. Ten years later, as this story picks up the tale, The Burnt Part, as the mine is called by the locals, is going to be reopened. Pete (Al Calderon) and Jake (Charlie Brady), sons of one of the miners, receive the news with opposite reactions. Jake is now a miner himself and wants the opportunity to finish what his father started. Pete, 14 and filled with hormones and movies, takes the news as a call to action – like Davie Bowie or Sam Houston would have. The Burnt Part is a grave not a mine and it should stay that way. He decides to climb up to the mine with his best friend Dusty (Noah Galvin) and drop some dynamite down the mouth of the mine, thereby sealing it forever. On the way he will encounter his movie heroes as well as a runaway school chum Frances (Molly Ranson) who has been living in the mountains since she ran away on account of she was a wild kid.
When Jake figures out where Pete has gone he goes after him and takes his best friend Chet (Andrew Durand).
Up the mountain everyone goes until the summit is reached, and all Hell breaks loose.
Pretty simple story with not a lot of suspense or obstacles. There is a lot of very good singing, and some wonderful staging using the barest of props. The mountain comes alive on the stage in a spectacular way. But that is just not enough to make a story. Great music, fabulous production values, excellent talent – and a story that is bland. There is just no other way to say it.
So good is the production – with the exception of the extreme overuse of the aisles in the audience - that you leave the theatre thinking “There was so much talent on that stage, maybe something DID happen?” And a few ‘somethings’ did – but not enough to match the mythic plot that was given. Two boys rush after the ghost of their father. One wants to resurrect, and one wants to bury. A little Antigone anyone? This is a rich premise, but the writers of this musical must have thought that premise and music were enough to carry the evening. Not so.
If you do go, you won’t be disappointed in the performances, and will make a lot of mental notes about people you would like to see and hear again. That would be the entire cast. Miller and Tyson are a musical team that you will want to hear from again as well. As for Mariana Elder – I hope she keeps working and finds herself a dramaturge to guide her. If she can come up with the story idea she can surely learn to connect the dots and keep us engaged at the same time.
But for this incarnation, The Burnt Part Boys is more marshmallow than mountain.