Thursday February 22nd 2018

“The Burnt Part Boys”

Somewhat Recommended** I truly enjoy viewing new plays, and when they are musicals with a sharp story, even more so.Griffin Theatre Company, one that is working hard to open their own facility on the north side, is bringing to the stage, at Theater Wit, the Chicago Premiere of  a small musical with some charm and spirit along with some very catchy music. The voices of the cast are pleasant enough, but what I had a problem with was the staging and story telling. Directed by Jonathan Berry in the limited space of stage number 3 at Wit, the set (Chelsea Warren) forces us to utilize our imaginations much more than we should have to. Written by Mariana Elder ( book) with music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, this is a true “Bluegrass” musical with 18 musical numbers filling most of the 90 minutes ( no intermission) as it tells the saga of residents of  rural West Virginia mining town circa 1962. Two brothers try to come to terms with life in a mining town, past and future. Jake (Mike Tepeli) is the elder brother who is a miner himself and has raised and protected his brother Pete (Charlie Fox) since their dad passed away with a mine accident. Now , they are planning to re-open this mine and young  Pete will do whatever he can to make sure that his brother does not suffer the same fate as their dad. The bodies have never been removed and to Pete, this is a graveyard, not a mine.

Pete is joined by his best friend, Dusty (the comical Max Zuppa, who also plays a “mean” saw) and Frances (Hannah Kahn), whose dad perished in the mine as well, to head for the mine and blow it up so that it can take no more lives from the town. Meanwhile, Jake and his buddy Chet ( Morgan Maher) head out to cut them off so that they do not kill themselves. We spend the better part of the next 80 minutes going up ramps and stairs as they climb the heights of the mountain to reach the mine entrance. Along the confusing way, we are greeted from time to time by four ghosts who represent the deceased Miners and who take on some other roles as well. The ensemble is made up of Johnny Moran, Jared Fernley,Alex Stage and Paul Fagen who also does the Davy Crockett fantasy man. They are solid singers and keep the flow of action moving by handling the set changes and being there when props are needed. Pete does blow the mine and they are all trapped inside, but with the aid of the “ghosts/spirits?, they see the light at the end of the tunnel and are spared. What they learned from their experience is that true friendship and family are far more important than anticipated and that “stuff happens” and we must learn to deal with what life hands us.

While I enjoyed the music and the talent on the stage, I am of the opinion that perhaps on a different set and in a different layout of a venue, this story telling would not be as confusing. They cross each other on different paths and of course, the spirits are too powerful to accept as spirits until they are all close  to death and need the spirits to lift them back to the present. In spite of this, it is still an enjoyable piece of theater, that will remind you of Mark Twain characters, and the music provided by Nicholas Davio and his musicians( Kim Lawson,Jay Pike and Cam McIntyre along with Davio) is truly enjoyable. Rick Sims’ sound and Lee Fiskness’ lighting along with the costumes by Izumi Inaba complete the picture that Berry has painted.

“The Burnt Part Boys” will continue at Theater Wit through  December 22nd with performances as follows:

Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $25-$36 and can be purchased at the theater box office located at 1229 West Belmont, by phone at 773-975-8150 or online at

There are student and senior discounts open seating. There is street parking, some metered some not and of course, Cooper’s Restaurant, directly accross the street offers free parking ( and a nice menu to boot).

To see what others think, go to my home page, link to Theatre in Chicago and go to review round-up, then click on to “The Burnt Part Boys”


2 Comments for ““The Burnt Part Boys””

  • Steven Holmsdorff says:

    I find it difficult to take your reviews as credible when they themselves are full of grammatical and syntactical errors. Perhaps these would be more forgiving if there also weren’t spelling mistakes (sage for saga, to for too).

    That being the case, I feel that you missed the point of this show. Just as Pete’s imagination serves as his driving force when overcoming obstacles, so must the audience engage its powers of imagination for the story to come to life. With the suggestion of fantasy characters and a score that soars, I found it easy to connect with the characters even while the play take place in the bleak setting of an impoverished West Virginia. Similarly, the miners are more than movers of furniture or purveyors of props. They, too, are forces that guide these young characters on their journey.

    In an era when blockbuster musicals have the corporate backing to create set pieces that do all of the story-telling for us, perhaps it is asking too much of an audience to engage their imaginations just as the actors do. I don’t think so, and I applaud Griffin for taking us on such a heart-felt journey. Bravo!

    • Alan Bresloff says:

      Thanks for your response. Often, since I try to avoid delays in my posts, I trust spellcheck more than I should ( I forget that it won’t correct a mis-used word). My reviews go to editiors of Russian,Spanish,Polish and Chinese papers who will translate to their languages before publishing, but you are right- I should take a little more time to re-read before I post.
      I appreciate your comments about the show itself as well. We all see things differently and as someone who sees over 200 productions a year, I have a pretty good idea as to what I want to tell my readers, many who have to trust me.
      Again, thanks

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