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CHARLESTON — “Coal Country” is coming to Coal Country.

The critically acclaimed documentary musical based on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster will make its West Virginia debut at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 9, at the Woodrow Wilson High School auditorium in Beckley.

Written by playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, with music by Grammy award winner Steve Earle, the show debuted at The Public Theater, in New York, on March 3, 2020.

Four years earlier, the three visited Raleigh County to spend time with residents and research the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners and the community they were part of. But by the middle of March 2020, theaters across the country were forced to close amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earle would release his album, “Ghosts of West Virginia,” which included songs from the musical, in May of that same year. Later, Amazon’s Audible would release a recording of “Coal Country,” but it took time to give the production a proper release.

During a virtual news conference Monday morning to announce the show, with Blank, Jensen, Earle and Theatre West Virginia Director Scott Hill, Earle said, “The intention was always to come back to West Virginia.”

It just wasn’t feasible to bring the show here before now.

After going dark in 2020, “Coal Country” reopened on March 10 at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York and closed April 17.

Blank said, “Our main focus was always getting the show reopened. Since it reopened, the focus was to get it down to Beckley, West Virginia.”

Earle said they’d envisioned doing three shows, and that he’d performed the songs with his band on tour after live performances began to resume, but this was likely the only show of its type with the full off-Broadway cast outside of New York.

Blank and Jensen said they were essentially airlifting the show from New York to Beckley.

“Coal Country” may not be an easy show for some people to see. It strives to give shape and form to a way of life, as well as the impact of tragedy. Earle said, “The job is about empathy.”

Blank said she wasn’t sure what the future would hold for “Coal Country” following the May 9 performance. She said the show could end up as a touring production done by a different company, or might be something community theater groups could eventually take on.

Jensen emphasized that “Coal Country” wasn’t just a West Virginia story, but an American story.

“Coal from West Virginia fired the forges in Pennsylvania that made the steel that built New York,” he said.

Theatre West Virginia Director Scott Hill, at least, seemed enthusiastic about one day bringing “Coal Country” to his organization’s 1,200 seat amphitheater, which he said was built for this kind of a show.

Hill said he could see “Coal Country” being part of the Raleigh County theater’s annual summer rotation, along with “Hatfields & McCoys,” “Rocket Boys” and “Honey in the Rock.”

Nevertheless, those kinds of plans would be at least a year or two away. The May 9 performance will be the only chance for West Virginians to see the show as it was presented in New York with Earle.

Tickets to “Coal Country” are free, but are in limited supply. Four hundred tickets are being set aside for family members who lost loved ones in the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, as well as survivors and former employees. Those tickets can be requested by emailing

The remaining tickets will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, beginning at 10 a.m. Friday through Theatre West Virginia’s website — Tickets are limited to two per person.

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