The Burnt Part Boys
Teenagers from a mining town learn the power of self-reliance in this Appalachian, bluegrass-inspired journey.
Show Essentials
+ Ensemble

Full Synopsis

A row of headlamps slowly comes up. In the distance, we see miners from 1952 — the Dead Miners — vigorously working on the earth that their God created ("God's Eyes").

We now flash forward ten years to 1962. We are in the town of Pickaway, West Virginia, an impoverished coal mining town with lush mountains and the Burnt Part — a gray and desolate area. Jake and Chet, two eighteen-year old coal miners, are finishing up a full night of drinking. The two friends lament about leaving school to work eight hours a day, five days a week ("Eight Hours").

We move to Saturday morning in Jake's kitchen. At breakfast, we meet Pete, who must beg and plead for 75 cents from Jake. Dusty enters and proclaims that he will be the musical entertainment for his grandma's quilting circle that evening! A news report airs over the radio, announcing the reopening of the Pickaway Coal Company's South Mountain mine.

It is revealed that there was a tragic collapse and fire in 1952 at the very same mine. The boys' fathers were victims of the collapse. Jake informs Pete that he has been handpicked for the reopening; Peter is concerned and pleads with his older brother. Jake storms out, leaving Pete to his thoughts and regrets ("Man I Never Knew"). Lost in his fantasies, General Sam Houston from The Alamo appears to Pete in the kitchen. Pete concludes that there is only thing to do — demolish the Burnt Part. He stuffs dynamite into his backpack and leaves.

Later that day, Chet and Jake have come back home from fishing. Chet confronts Jake about the way that he handles the Burnt Part with his little brother, Pete ("The Burnt Part"). Outside, Pete is pleading with Dusty to join him on the mission to the Burnt Part. He is hesitant.

Eventually, Jake discovers the broken lockbox and missing dynamite; he and Chet go chasing after Pete. But Pete and Dusty, who has reluctantly joined him, are already long gone. Jake and Chet have come to the realization that they must now make the journey to the Burnt Part — the same place where their fathers met an untimely fate ("Sunrise").

Further on in the woods, we find Pete and Dusty stopped in front of a Pickaway Coal Company security fence. Pete is now lost in a new Alamo fantasy as Davy Crockett appears to show him the way around the fence ("Davy Crockett").

In another area of the woods, we meet Frances; she has her gun raised and is stalking her breakfast ("Good Morning Gun"). As a campsite comes into view, Frances runs into Pete and Dusty. Frances is not pleased and demands that they leave — Pete is shocked to see her. It is revealed that she ran away from her home and parents three months ago. When Dusty tells her of their mission, Frances is intrigued and insists on joining. She says that she has been to the Burnt Part and can help them. They continue on their journey.

Back on the company road, Jake and Chet talk about starting work on Monday and how they plan to find Pete. At the same time, in the hills, we see Dusty, Frances and Pete navigating their way through the terrain ("Climbing Song").

Tensions are beginning to mount as Dusty and Frances argue about the past. It climaxes to a physical faceoff as the three wrestle around on the ground. They are stopped by the sound of Jake and Chet's calls; Peter is being followed. Finding resolve in his fantasies, Jim Bowie appears to Pete ("Bowie's Lament").

With a new determination, Pete insists that they keep going. Frances and Dusty are shocked to find out what Pete's true plans are and that he has stolen dynamite from Jake. Dusty refuses to do it and turns back; Frances and Pete continue on.

Elsewhere, we find Jake and Chet standing at one side of a violent river with only some ropes left. Chet reminds Jake that this is the Clinch River, a river upon which they used to try to canoe ("Balancing"). We shift to Pete and Frances, who are at the river but much further upstream. The two find an old boat and make it across. Back at the other end, Jake and Chet have successfully crossed the river, too.

In another area, Dusty ponders his decision to retreat ("Dusty's Song").

Pete and Frances find themselves in Sullycreek Woods, closer to the Burnt Part. The tired duo sits to rest. Deep in conversation, Frances opens up and confides in Pete. She also admits that she has never been to the Burnt Part.

In another area, Jake and Chet come across an impassable section of the road. Jake suggests that they try the Sullycreek Woods to get around it, but Chet reminds him of a warning from the older workers about that part of the forest. The Dead Miners appear from the abyss as the four kids travel through the forest ("Family Tree").

Chet and Jake come across a small abandoned graveyard; Frances and Pete come across an ancient mining tunnel. They are all close to the Burnt Part. Just then, Dusty arrives at the tunnel — and behind him, Chet and Jake follow. A tense argument breaks out.

Following an altercation, Jake is able to steal away the dynamite. The group finally agrees to venture on — but only to "look and then leave." They are on the final leg of the journey ("Climbing Song") and begin to anticipate what they will encounter upon their arrival ("Disappear").

At last, they reach the Burnt Part. Pete suggests a moment of silence; the others bow their heads and close their eyes as Pete secretly grabs his backpack and begins setting up the dynamite ("Countdown"). Pete pushes down on the dynamite blasting cap. Rocks begin to fall. A huge hole opens up in the rocks. Darkness.

Chet's flashlight flickers on. The group has been thrown into the pitch black of a small tunnel. Jake and Chet agree to explore the tunnel and find an exit as the others stay back. When Jake and Chet return, it's revealed that they are trapped.

In a time-lapse of sequences, we begin at 6:58 PM, when the group shuts off their lights and end all conversation to preserve energy and oxygen. At 11:22 PM, Chet tries to instill hope in the group and offers ideas for rescue. At 2:46 AM, the flashlight goes on — and then off — again. When 6:02 AM comes, the flashlight is dimming. Hope is quickly fading away.

Suddenly, there is a sound of digging and clanking. Silence. ...And then more digging. The Dead Miners appear. We are back in 1952, and the miners are proudly boasting about their kids ("I Made That"). The ghosts finally turn to the kids and they embrace. Jake and Pete share a moment with their Dad. As they continue to embrace, a shaft of light cuts into the tunnel; the Dead Miners vanish.

Chet determines that they are actually stuck in one of the front two chambers — there is still a chance of survival. Dusty, with full physical confidence, begins clearing the way. He moves boulders, rocks and stones. With one last push, the group breaks through into the sunlight. They stand and look down on the valley as the sun rises ("Finale").

← Back to The Burnt Part Boys
Cast Size: Small (Up to 10 performers)
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast
Dance Requirements: Standard

Character Breakdown

Jake's younger brother. Intense and very imaginative. He is skeptical of the coal mining industry. Curious and adventurous.
Gender: male
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: A5
Vocal range bottom: B2
Pete's older brother who dropped out of school to work in the mines. He is constantly suppressing his anger. Cynical, conflicted, jaded, determined.
Gender: male
Age: 18 to 21
Vocal range top: G#5
Vocal range bottom: C4
Pete's best friend. A simple-minded teen who is weary of Pete's adventures. Generally amiable, loves to talk. Religious.
Gender: male
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: A6
Vocal range bottom: D4
Jake's best friend and co-worker in the mines. An outgoing guy, but a bit of a wise-ass. Stubborn, loyal.
Gender: male
Age: 18 to 21
Vocal range top: D6
Vocal range bottom: D4
A feisty runaway living in the hills. She has a dry wit and short temper. Brave, confident, controlling.
Gender: female
Age: 13 to 16
Vocal range top: C6
Vocal range bottom: G3
Dad / Pete's Fantasy Men
Appears as Pete's "Alamo" fantasies (Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie), and as his father in the mines.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 45
Vocal range top: A5
Vocal range bottom: B2
Dead Miners
A group of four men, ranging in age, who appear as ghosts in the coal mines.
Gender: male
Age: 20 to 60
Vocal range top: A5
Vocal range bottom: E2
Full Song List
The Burnt Part Boys: God s Eyes
The Burnt Part Boys: Eight Hours
The Burnt Part Boys: Man I Never Knew/Houston s Call to Arms
The Burnt Part Boys: The Burnt Part
The Burnt Part Boys: Sunrise
The Burnt Part Boys: Davy Crockett
The Burnt Part Boys: Good Morning Gun
The Burnt Part Boys: Little Toy Compass
The Burnt Part Boys: Climbing Song 1
The Burnt Part Boys: Bowie s Lament
The Burnt Part Boys: Balancing
The Burnt Part Boys: Dusty Plays the Saw
The Burnt Part Boys: Family Tree
The Burnt Part Boys: Climbing Song 2
The Burnt Part Boys: Disappear
The Burnt Part Boys: Countdown
The Burnt Part Boys: I Made That
The Burnt Part Boys: Finale

Show History


Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen set out to write an adventure story that took place in West Virginia. Pete, one of the main characters in the show, frequently loses himself in fantasy sequences inspired by the 1960 film, The Alamo, starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett. Hailing from Kansas, Tysen has remarked that he feels as though he wrote The Burnt Part Boys "for the community [that he] grew up in." Despite the show's heavy themes of loss and grief, The Burnt Part Boys focuses upon the exuberance of friendship. 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. ...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."


The Burnt Part Boys had an innovative production and development schedule on the way to its Off-Broadway premiere. The show received its first developmental production at the Barrington Stage Company in 2006, followed by a developmental Lab Production at Vineyard Theatre in Spring 2009. In the summer of 2009, it was presented at New York Stage and Film at Vassar College. The unique developmental track of the show comes in part under the aegis of the Playwrights Horizons Musicals in Partnership Initiative, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Funding for the development of The Burnt Part Boys at Vineyard Theatre was also provided by The National Endowment for the Arts and The Maurer Family Foundation.

The Burnt Part Boys ran Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons from April 30, 2010, to June 13, 2010. The show was produced in conjunction with the Vineyard Theatre. Joe Calarco provided direction and musical staging.

Critical Reaction

"Vivid, appealing performances! A tuneful and warm-spirited, family-friendly new show – the spirit of youthful high jinks recall the exploits of Mark Twain's beloved roughhousers, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn."
– The New York Times

"Ambitious and accomplished! A smart, ardent show! Just when you think musical theater is all tapped out, pieces like 'Burnt Part' find new material to mine."
– Time Out New York

"A warmhearted coming-of-age story with a stirring score."
– Daily News

"Excellent bluegrass-pop songs: tuneful, catchy and moving"
– The New York Observer




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Playwrights Horizons, Inc. and Vineyard Theatre, New York City, produced the New York City Premiere of "The Burnt Part Boys" Off-Broadway in 2010.

"The Burnt Part Boys" is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays award.

"The Burnt Part Boys" was presented by New York Stage and Film Company and the Powerhouse Theater at Vassar, July 2009.

"The Burnt Part Boys" received its World Premiere by Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
(Julianne Boyd, Artistic Director; Michael Perreca, Producing Director; William Finn, Artistic Director of Musical Theater Program).
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