Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ring of Fire


Conceived by:  Richard Maltby, Jr.

Music and Lyrics by:  Johnny Cash

Company:  Lake Dillon Theatre Company

Venue:  Lake Dillon Theatre, 176 Lake Dillon Drive, Dillon CO 80435

Running Time:  1 hour 55 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)

Date of Performance:  Friday, September 5, 2014

Ring of Fire is a Johnny Cash bio musical that appeals to a lot more folks than just those who were big fans of The Man In Black.  It also appeals to everyone who values a true piece of Americana.  Cash's music had, and still has, a nearly universal appeal, combining country music with rock influences, creating the brand new genre called Rockabilly.  In truth though, Cash conquered nearly every genre, from country to rock, from gospel to blues, and from folk to pop.

Ring of Fire is less a tribute to the man than to his music.  No actor/musician plays a Cash character per se; rather they all play his music and narrate important points in Cash's life story.  We hear about his dirt poor upbringing in Arkansas, his brother's death, his rocky start at Sun Records in Memphis, his breakup with his wife, his descent into drugs, and his love story with June.  These are all compelling moments, and the cast puts their hearts and souls into these peaks and valleys of the Cash legend.

Jessica Kahkoska
Ring of Fire tells those stories through Cash's music, so it takes an enormously talented cast to make this show work.  Lake Dillon Theatre Company's cast is exactly that:  enormously talented.  Each and every one of them is a true triple threat:  they sing, they play multiple instruments, and they act their hearts out.  Jessica Kahkoska is the only woman on stage, and she takes no back seat to her four male counterparts.  She can rock the music with all of them, and she can sing a sweet solo (Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Jordan) that can bring tears to your eyes.

Her four male castmates do a bang up job on every song they do, but especially on an acapella version of Memphis.  Director Chris Alleman and Music Director Cameron Kinnear turn them loose with some unusual but very effective percussion instruments.  It works very well; the music is reduced to a primal prison beat with stark lyrics.  The effect is both magical and unforgettable.

Ben Whitmore
Ben Whitmore appears in black in the second act, singing a soulful and penetrating The Man  In Black. The image is striking; Whitmore in a long black coat, playing his guitar, and sounding like the Man himself.  Cash, a Christian fundamentalist, wore black for the poor, the hungry, the prisoners, the soldiers who fight and die, and for those who can't or won't hear The Word.  Whitmore's performance is touching and poignant; Cash's lyrics are still as relevant today as when he first wrote it.

There's a lot of red meat here for Cash fans:  I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Ring of Fire, Egg Sucking Dog (Keith Potts obviously loves this one), Hey Porter, Jackson, I've Been Everywhere, Sweet Bye and Bye, Cry, Cry, Cry, If I Were a Carpenter, and the very personal Five Feet High and Rising.  Each is a Cash classic; all are performed with an infectious energy fitting the Cash legacy.  There's also a decidedly politically incorrect tune here.  It's OK to cringe.  Cash displayed his outlaw persona in some of his music, and Delia's Gone is one of those.  It's a reminder that Cash knew the seamier side of life, and it's not a surprise that his music sometimes reflects questionable values.  (Or, perhaps Delia's Gone might just be a song with a sense of humor, like A Boy Named Sue.  In that case, I just don't see the humor.)
Music Director and Sound Designer Cameron Kinnear had a difficult task in the small space at Lake Dillon; he needed to keep the music loud enough to let the audience sense the power, but without blowing them out of their seats.  Kinnear made a decision to keep the music acoustic, as opposed to amplified.  In such a small space, it was a very wise choice.

Ring of Fire is a dynamite production, well worth the trip to Dillon (a 2.5 hour drive for us).  I have a couple of quibbles with it (actors at times seem only half lit, and a few of the songs seem to exceed the range of the cast), but that doesn't change the bottom line.  Ring of Fire is a toe tapping, knee slapping, sing along good time.  You WILL leave the theater wits a song in your heart.  Whether it's Jackson or Folsom Prison Blues, or one of Cash's many other hits, you will feel enlightened, entertained, and impressed by Johnny Cash and by the Lake Dillon Theatre Company's production.  Cash was a true American musical genius; he may be missed but he is not forgotten.


There is ample public parking on Lake Dillon Drive, including several handicapped spots in front of the theater.

This show closes on September 21, 2014.  This show is suitable for all ages.  Although they may not remember the music, kids very well may like this show anyway.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:

The Dillon Dam Brewery, 100 Little Dam Street, Dillon, is a large local pub and brewhouse.  You can get a variety of Dam Good Beers, on draft, of course.  Burgers and traditional pub fare is available, as well as a kids menu (not always available in brewpubs).  I recommend the spinach salad and the Dam Straight Lager.  Kind of a healthy meal with lots of hops...

Tickets HERE.

Photo CreditsLake Dillon Theatre Company

Creative Team:

Director:  Christopher Alleman

Musical Director:  Cameron Kinnear

Scenic Design:  Benjamin Whitmore

Lighting Design:  Jacob Welch

Sound Design:  Cameron Kinnear

Costume Design:  Michelle B. Hathaway


Jessica Kahkoska

Kevin Alan

John Hays

Keith Potts
Benjamin Whitmore

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