Johnny Cash is an American original and a household name to anyone over the age of 30. His music is household famous as well – “I Walk the Line,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and “Folsom Prison Blues” among many others. He wrote and/or recorded over 300 songs and sold over 90 million records. If you like Johnny Cash music, the best way to enjoy a retrospective of his career is to go see Ring of Fire currently at the Riverside Theatre.
This is my kind of musical. It is all music (32 songs) with short vignettes of dialogue about his life. We all know that Cash was a very complex man, an enigma, but that side of him is not the point of this show – it’s all about the music and the atmosphere of old-fashioned country culture around which that music was created.
The central characters – two male and two female – at times resemble Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in their youth and then more mature. But often they all appear together on stage. The “young Johnny,” played by Benjamin D. Hale, is in character throughout the performance, but the “older Johnny,” (played by Jason Edwards, who also directed the presentation) is more of a composite, as are the female leads, Trenna Barnes and Allison Briner-Dardenne. All are excellent however as singers and performers as they take you through Cash’s early life during the Great Depression, then his musical career from start to stardom.
The real “hook” to this show though is the fact that all musicians perform on stage – and not just as musicians. Brantley Kearns, the fiddle player, also portrays the “grandpa” character and sings; Jeff Lisenby (music director), plays keyboard at the back of the band, but more upfront on the accordion; John Marshall plays “slapping bass” and acts in many scenes (he also did a virtuoso solo right after intermission that had the audience in awe). Sam Sherwood played guitar, mandolin and harmonica, all staples of Appalachian music; and Brent Moyer played guitar and did trumpet solo on the theme song, “Ring of Fire.”
Along with the usual expert craftsmanship we come to expect from Riverside sets, costumes, choreography, staging, lighting and sound, this musical will keep your toes tapping and hands clapping, put a smile on your face and joy in your heart. Thanks, Johnny!
Ring of Fire plays through November 13 with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; 2:00 p.m. matinees on Wednesday and select Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call 772-231-6990 for more information or visit the Theatre’s website at www.riversidetheatre.com.