Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Burnt Part Boys
freeFall Theatre

Joseph Flynn, Nick Lerew, Katie Berger, Cameron Kubly and Nick Fitzer
Currently at freeFall Theatre is The Burnt Part Boys, book by Mariana Elder, music by Chris Miller and lyrics by Nathan Tysen. Set in West Virginia's coal mining country, the show is a rich story of two brothers and their close friends, years after a mining tragedy that killed nine men. It is set in 1963 and uses some specific imagery that ties into that time frame. The score draws on Appalachia's sweet harmonies mixed with post Sondheim Broadway influences. The storytelling is a bit unfocused in the first act, stronger in the second. The show, overall is edgy, a perfect fit for freeFall. I can't put my finger on why, but I cannot see this musical drawing an audience, on or off Broadway for an extended run. Still, I was really drawn to the characters and story.

Judging from photographs, the first production at New York's Playwrights Horizon was fairly simple; two ladders on casters figured prominently. freeFall's production, directed by Artistic Director Eric Davis, is a more elaborate affair. The audience is seated on both sides of a rectangular rough-hewn wooden stage. Various pieces of this stage lift, via pulleys, and the set pieces on either end of the stage are used for actors to climb on and around to give a sense of the uneven terrain of the Appalachian foothills. The physicality of this production is one of its strongest assets. Mr. Davis has taught his actors to move in the manner of the time and place, which is very different than how young people move today. Two scenes early in act one, when hero Pete mixes it up with older brother Jake and then best friend Dusty, illustrates this. The first act finale is a fine coupe de theatre, visually and emotionally exciting. It's difficult to imagine a better realization of this musical.

Several of freeFall's regular performers have been cast as the older generation, including Jim Sorensen as Frances' dad, and Patrick Ryan Sullivan as Pete and Jake's dad, joining Chris Vaughn anchoring the harmonies with magnificent low notes as Chet's dad and Daniel Schwab as Roy Tinns. As a group, they give this production the gravitas it needs. The younger half of the cast is every bit their equal. Cameron Kubly, recently graduated from Blake High School of the Performing Arts in Tampa, as 14-year-old Pete, Nick Lerew as older brother Jake, Nick Fitzer as Jake's friend Chet, and Joseph Flynn as Pete's friend Dusty are all excellent. It is very hard to single any of them out because even though Pete is definitely the leading role, the show succeeds or falls on the strength of the entire ensemble. Katie Berger as Francis and the only female in this all male cast is outstanding, tomboyish and yet insecure. She continues the outstanding work she did in last season's Spring Awakening.

As mentioned, all of the physical elements of this production make strong contributions to its overall excellence, including Matt Davis' scenic design, Eric Davis' direction and costume design, and Mike Wood's lighting design. The six-piece orchestra under the direction of Michael Raabe projects the underlying bluegrass identity in the score.

Thank you to freeFall for bringing the gritty and exciting The Burnt Part Boys to St. Petersburg.

freeFall Theatre Company presents The Burnt Part Boys through July 6, 2014, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Katie Berger as Frances
Nick Fitzer as Chet
Joseph Flynn as Dusty
Cameron Kubly as Pete
Nick Lerew as Jake
Daniel Schwab* as Roy Tinns
Jim Sorensen* as Frances' Dad
Patrick Ryan Sullivan* as Pete and Jake's Dad
Chris Vaughn* as Chet's Dad
* Member Actor's Equity Association

Piano Conductor: Michael Raabe
Guitar/Banjo: Nicholas J. White
Drums Percussion: Burt Rushing
Violin: Marta Bukacek
Viola: Maribeth Radtke
Bass: Irv GoldBerg

Director: Eric Davis
Music Director: Michael Raabe
Scenic Design: Matt Davis
Costume Design: Eric Davis
Lighting Design: Mike Wood

Photo: freeFall Theatre

--William S. Oser

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