With its easygoing Appalachian twang and studied dissonance, the score to “The Burnt Part Boys,” at Playwrights Horizons, is certainly intriguing. But its appeal is ultimately more academic than visceral. Like the musical itself, it never fully comes together.
It’s 1962 in Appalachia, where 14-year-old Pete (Al Calderon) is being raised by his older brother, Jake (Charlie Brady). Pete learns that the “company” plans to reopen the Burnt Part of the coal mine, where their father died 10 years earlier. He sets off, with the unwitting help of his sidekick Dusty (Noah Galvin) to dynamite the mine, intermittently interacting with various imagined characters from his favorite movie, “The Alamo,” and picking up a wild girl named Frances (Molly Ranson) en route. Jake finds out and sets off to stop him, accompanied by his own sidekick, Chet (Andrew Durand).
While only a portion of the musical takes place in a mine, for some reason it’s underlit throughout, as if it all did. Perhaps intimacy is the intention but the result is the opposite: the action onstage seems very remote.
Then there’s the character of Frances. A pubescent Annie Oakley, she seems slapped on, as if someone decided there needed to be a female character and wedged her in where she doesn’t really belong. But most of all it’s hard to get fully onboard with Pete’s odyssey. The boy’s reaction to the mine’s proposed reopening is understandable but it’s just not compelling enough to get swept up in.