Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Ring of Fire...the Music of Johnny Cash"

Ring of Fire...the Music of Johnny Cash

Created by:  Richard Maltby

Company:  Denver Center Theatre Company

Venue:  Denver Center for the Performing Arts, The Stage Theater, Denver CO

Date of Performance:  Sunday, March 25, 2012

Those who must see this show include 1) Johnny Cash fans, 2) fans of classical country music, 3) fans of musicals, and 4) all the rest of us.  I haven’t been mistaken lately for number 1, 2, or 3.  Even so, I enjoyed this production immensely. 

This is one of those musical hybrids; it’s not exactly a concert and not exactly a traditional musical.  There is a story, but it’s bare bones and doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about The Man in Black.  That’s fine; Cash’s music can easily carry the show regardless of the storyline.

The cast doesn’t have characters; it has “principals” and an “ensemble.”  That’s because there is no defined Johnny Cash character on stage…the principals take turns singing and playing his music.  It’s an interesting approach.  The show is not about impersonating Cash.  It’s about bringing his music to life with different voices.

In truth, the “principals” and the “ensemble” form a seamless group of musicians, singers, dancers, and actors making the Cash classics meaningful again.  It has to be said; there is a wealth of talent on this stage.  There’s not a vocal, instrumental, or acting weakness in any part of the show…never even a single note out of place.  It’s exactly what Cash would have wanted:  a toe tapping, foot stomping celebration of the man and his music.  All the hits are there:  “Ring of Fire,” “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line”…well, you get the idea.  Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits.

All the technical parts here work well; the sound/light design produced the best indoor thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced.  Costumes (or is it clothes?) make the man, and The Man in Black was decked out just as we remember him.

The music is great, but I think the real strength of this production is the careful, if sparse, narration of Cash’s story.  It’s the classic American success story:  rags to riches starring a flawed hero who dealt with his demons every day of his life. 

When Cash was young, he lost a brother to an accident involving a power saw.  The Mississippi River flooded their farm and forced the family to flee.  Pulled back from the brink by a Federal Rural Relief Program, the family got 20 acres, a home, a barn, and a mule for nothing down and no payment until the first crop was in.  These were very humble beginnings for a guy who rose to the top of his field, and they make for a compelling narrative to the music.

So for me, this show was an unqualified success.  I fully recommend it to any and all who want a couple of hours of rocking entertainment about a guy who is an American original.  It’s a couple of hours you will totally enjoy.

NOTE:  This is a family show, and is recommended for children ages 6 and up.  The Denver Center encourages families to attend together.

This show runs through May 13, 2012.

Jason Edwards

Trenna Barnes
Troy Burgess
Jason Edwards
Kelli Provart

Brantley Kearns (fiddle, guitar)
Jeff Lisenby (keyboards, accordion)
Brent Moyer (guitars, coronet)
John Marshall (bass fiddle)
Walter Hardman (drums)
John Foley (guitar, mandolin, harmonica, dobro)

Set Design by John Iacovelli

Costume Design by Kevin Copenhaver

Lighting Design by Charles R. MacLeod

Sound Design by Craig Breitenbach

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