THE BURNT PART BOYS, 4Star****,London, to 03 September

Book by Marianna Elder, Music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tysen.
4Stars ****

Park 90, The Park Theatre TO 03 09
Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4 3JP to 3 September 2016.
Tues-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 1hr 45 mins No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7870 6876.
Review: William Russell 11 August.

A splendid musical adventure into the woods in West Virginia
Strikingly staged – the set is little more than some chairs, ropes and a canopy of rope and lanterns – this engrossing musical takes us into a journey of discovery in the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains. It certainly breaks new ground as musical material, although it is slightly reminiscent in subject matter of Rob Reiner’s 1988 film, Stand By Me. That’s the film about some country boys who went in to the wilds looking for a dead body.

West Virginia is the land of abandoned coal mines gradually being engulfed by the forests, of a populace looking back to the days when the industry flourished, of country music and men being patriotic and boys who consider John Wayne, only actor after all, to be a great American hero who did great deeds.

Director Matthew Iliffe has worked wonders with the inevitably limited resources at his disposal and his cast deliver what is wanted to perfection.

Teenager Pete, a spirited performance by Joseph Peacock, is horrified when he learns that the mine in which his father died in an accident ten years before, is to be re-opened. He dreams of the Alamo, of Jim Bowie as does his best friend, Dusty, equally well done by Ryan Heenan, a chubby and endearing presence.

Pete is idealistic, Dusty a bit of a wimp, plays the musical saw, and prays to “Dear Jesus and John Wayne” at moments of stress. Pete’s brother, Jake, played by Chris Jenkins, accepts the inevitable. The mine will re-open.

The two boys go off into the woods to do something about the company’s plans to desecrate what, to them, is a sacred spot, followed by Jake and his friend Chet, played by David Leopold whose father also died in the accident. They are determined to stop them because this means jobs.

Things happen: the boys meet a feral teenager, Frances, strikingly played by Grace Osborn, who is living wild; the ghosts of the dead miners surface to complement the action; and the menace of terrible things, lurking in the woods hangs over it all. Chris Miller’s score mines all the obvious American music sources to effect, the cast do the songs justice – the chorus of the dead are particularly good.

Played without an interval the result is as fine a piece of American musical theatre as there has been in ages. It does not have quite the resonances of the Reiner movie, and none of the songs quite live up to Take Me Home, Country Roads, which keeps coming unbidden to mind.

But it is good, very good.

Pete: Joseph Peacock.
Dusty: Ryan Heenan.
Jake: Chris Jenkins.
Chet: David Leopold.
Pete’s Fantasy Men/Dad: David Haydn.
Frances: Grace Osborn.
Dead Mines: Danny Black-George, Tomas Wolstenholme, Jonathan Miner, Jamie Fillery.

Director: Matthew Iliffe.
Musical Director: Nick Barstow.
Set & Costume Design: Rachel Wingate.
Lighting Designer: Charlie Morgan Jones.
Sound Designer: Philip Matejtschuk.
Assistant Director: Emily Louizou.

2016-08-12 10:28:49

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