‘The Burnt Part Boys’ is the first musical to be staged at Park 90, written by Mariana Elder, it was performed Off-Broadway in 2010. This production, directed by Matthew Iliffe, is the European Premiere -but has it been the right choice for the Park Theatre as their debut musical?
Set in West Virginia in the early 1960’s, ‘The Burnt Part Boys’ tells the story of a group of teenagers living in the shadow of a mining accident in which their fathers were killed a decade previously. With the focus on two brothers, ‘Jake’ and ‘Pete’, who react very differently to the news that the mine, and final resting place of their father, is to be reopened.
‘Pete’ sets off on an adventure and is often guided by the fictional characters of the movies he so adores, these fictional characters have clearly guided him for much of his life, growing up without parental influence.
Joseph Peacock plays the central character of ‘Pete’, and he is a very talented young actor. From wide-eyed innocence to hardened explorer every movement he makes is that of a teenager awkwardly trying to fit his own body.
He is supported on his journey by best friend ‘Dusty’, played by Ryan Heenan. The two fit perfectly together, Heenan executes the comedic part of the role with precision and balances it with the angst portrayed by Peacock.
Chris Jenkins plays ‘Jake’, and along with ‘Chet’, played by David Leopold, pursues Pete and Dusty to prevent them from carrying out the sabotage they plan. Again, both actors work well together and portray a different kind of friendship.
Grace Osborn plays ‘Frances’, the only female role that is a tom-boy character. Frances also brings a comedic element, but this character has a more vulnerable side that Osborn explores in as much depth as time allows.
‘The Burnt Part Boys’ music is by Chris Miller and lyrics are by Nathan Tysen, the score is generally uplifting, while taking a sombre tone where it needs to. The harmonies from the cast are quite delightful and I could have listened to some of the songs over and over again. ‘The Burnt Part’, ‘Climbing Song’ and ‘Sunrise’ were particular favourites, and sounded wonderful under the Musical Direction of Nick Barstow.
The staging is understated spectacular, the small stage of the Park 90 studio is almost completely bare throughout, yet we trek through forests, traverse river Rapids and tumble down forgotten mine shafts. The perfectly choreographed cast make it all seem so real and leave you perched on the edge of your seat during the more dramatic parts of the expedition.
‘The Burnt Part Boys’ is a beautiful musical, which ties together friendship, brotherly love and a desire to do the right thing. A remarkable cast under the direction of Matthew Iliffe makes ‘The Burnt Part Boys’ the perfect musical chosen to be the first at The Park Theatre.