The Mountains Are Burning

The Mountains Are Burning


A Musical Theater Piece Inspired by Historical Events
Book & Lyrics by Mary Ellen Bernard
Music by Paul Guzzone

The year is 1902. The simmering discontent among Pennsylvania miners is about to ignite into a tumultuous five-month strike. On one side: the iron-fisted coal barons. On the other: 140,000 men roused to action by a fiery union organizer and the women who join her crusade. In between, a man who loses hope and a daughter who finds courage enough for both of them.

With music that sounds both contemporary and of the period, drawing on ethnic and American folk influences, The Mountains Are Burning makes a slice of the American immigrant experience sing as it weaves themes of family, friendship, love, loyalty, and loss into a timely and ageless story of the poor versus the powerful.

principal Characters

  • Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the audacious labor activist and electrifying speaker who descends upon the area to organize for the nascent United Mine Workers of America.
  • Ziggy Boyarski, experienced miner, uneducated but innately intelligent. A no-nonsense, hard worker who plays by the rules, he is forced into a battle for his soul and his conscience.
  • Zosia Boyarski, Ziggy’s wife, an elegant woman making the most of her crude surroundings while longing for the idyllic life of her childhood in Poland.
  • Magda Boyarski, their smart and strong-willed daughter, who shares both her mother’s romanticism and her father’s sense of justice.
  • Seamus “Riley” O’Riley, Ziggy’s best friend, mining buddy – and his opposite – he is gregarious, high-spirited, and unrestrained, with a strong militant streak.
  • Patrick O’Riley, Riley’s younger brother, a dreamer and a charmer, newly emigrated from Ireland.

The Mountains Are Burning: Origin Story

The Mountains Are Burning, a musical theater piece, is loosely based on historical events in and around my hometown, Scranton, Pennsylvania – namely, the immigrant experience and the labor activism among coal miners and their families at the dawn of the 20th century.

I was first inspired by a visit to Eckley Miners’ Village Museum in Weatherly, PA, which brought back stories I had heard as a child. While walking the exhibits filled with everything from pickaxes, head lamps and sign-in boards (to keep track of who went into the mine – and who came out), something clicked. I had seen some of these objects in my father’s cluttered garage without understanding their significance.

I suddenly understood that I had grown up on hallowed ground. The sweat and blood of those who came before, including my grandparents, was – and is still – in the soil. As immigrants who traded one brand of misery for another, they worked harder than we could ever imagine. And they built a country that often gave them little in return. Only after several generations were the fruits of their labor to be enjoyed.

When we left the museum, I told my husband Paul that this would make a great musical. He responded: “So, write it.” And here we are.