THE BURNT PART BOYS, book by Mariana Elder, lyrics by Nathan Tysen, and music by Chris Miller, is the newest addition to MTI’s Theatre on the Edge collection. Theatre on The Edge shows are marked by the fact that they have garnered a disproportionate share of awards and acclaim; they stimulate discussion and generate phenomenal word of mouth; they attract audiences including those who might not otherwise be drawn to a musical; they generate exclusive cult followings and encourage repeat customers; they reflect boldness and artistic integrity; they sell tickets!
Despite being a musical theater writing team for over ten years, THE BURNT PART BOYS songwriters, Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, have been garnering a lot of attention lately – first with the Off-Broadway production of THE BURNT PART BOYS at Playwrights Horizons in 2010, and then with the announcement that their musical based on the popular novel Tuck Everlasting is headed to Broadway next year (for more musicals based on literature click here.) MTI Marquee had the opportunity to catch up with them recently to talk about THE BURNT PART BOYS and why they’re excited to be working with MTI.
THE BURNT PART BOYS is at heart an adventure story. That’s what Miller and Tysen set out to write, and for a long time the show was called “The Untitled Mountain Musical Adventure” (arguably an easier title to sell than “The Burnt Part Boys”, especially according to composer/lyricist William Finn (THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE), says Tysen.) Set in a mining town in West Virginia in 1962, THE BURNT PART BOYS is primarily a story about families, and children connecting with their parents. Ten years earlier, there was a mining disaster in the town that killed many of the fathers of the now teenage kids. The mining company closed off the mine, and that part of the mountain has lay dormant for ten years – “The Burnt Part.” When fourteen-year old Pete learns that the company plans to re-open The Burnt Part, and worse send his older brother, Jake, to work there as foreman, he leads his best friend, Dusty, who’s a self-described “Marshmallow”, up the mountain to shut down the mine once and for all. The show features movie-inspired fantasy sequences from Pete’s imagination that give him the courage to go forward, these sequences include such heroes as John Wayne and Davey Crockett. With a soaring, elegiac bluegrass and pop-inspired score, THE BURNT PART BOYS is an inspiring new musical unlike any before it. To read a full synopsis click here.
While THE BURNT PART BOYS had a successful Off-Broadway run, Miller and Tysen actually suspect the show will resonate better outside of New York. That’s one reason they’re excited to be paired with MTI, which will allow theaters around the country to produce the show and bring the work to a whole new audience.
Miller says of the show, “it’s a joyous, fun journey, and [while] there is the gravitas about the mining accident, it’s really about finding each other in this ghostly landscape.” He thinks, “that’s really exciting – it excited us about writing the piece and I feel like in terms of subsequent productions that would be exciting to other people as well.”
Miller and Tysen also talked about how the minimal set requirements make the show ideal for regional productions at theatres that have a lot of talent, but not as many resources to do big shows. The show is written in such a way that the imagination and creativity of the director and the actors allow it to soar; even the Off-Broadway production relied heavily on imagination, using rope and ladders to create the effect of the dangerous journey up the mountain.
The main thing the writers wanted to emphasize about the show for theatres that are thinking about producing it is that THE BURNT PART BOYS can be done with or without casting children. At Playwrights Horizons younger actors played the younger characters, but Miller and Tysen explained that the show has been done with adult actors in those roles and has worked just as well. Going forward, they hope that producing theatres are aware of the flexibility of casting within the piece, including the opportunity to add more miners if an organization wants to add additional roles.
The touching story and fresh score make THE BURNT PART BOYS a show for all audiences. That said, Miller and Tysen pointed out that many people told them after the Off-Broadway run that it was a show they wished “they could bring their father to.” Underneath the adventure, movie references, and subject matter that is still relevant in a contemporary setting (unfortunately, during the time the show was being written and produced, several modern day mining disasters occurred), THE BURNT PART BOYS is a show about fathers and their children.
THE BURNT PART BOYS is an exciting new addition to the MTI Catalogue and the Theatre on the Edge collection. It gained attention in New York when it debuted at Playwrights Horizons in 2010, and the Director of Musical Theater at PH, Kent Nicholson, said, “I think Burnt Part Boys heralds the start of a new generation of musical theater.” Now, however, as the Miller and Tysen get ready for the road to Broadway with TUCK EVERLASTING, they’re excited to see THE BURNT PART BOYS reach new audiences outside of New York. As Tysen put it, “I would have been so excited to see this show outside of New York, especially growing up in Kansas, I feel like in a lot of ways I wrote it for the community I grew up in…I can’t wait for a West Virginia production of this show, I think it’s going to be awesome.”