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.
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. They built a country that often gave them little in return. And they did so with determination, humor, and grace. Only after several generations were the fruits of their labor to be enjoyed. I felt that their story should be told – and that it was a story that could sing.
A secondary source of inspiration was Bruce Springsteen’s joyous Seeger Sessions Tour, in which he performed raucous arrangements of songs made famous by that iconic folk artist and activist as well as other classic Americana songs. Hearing music from these earlier eras arranged and played with a gutsy 21st-century energy was in my mind as I left Eckley Village with the thought of putting these miners and their families into a piece of musical theater.
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.