A soft haze drifts across the worn wood stage floor of the Victor Jory Theatre, as glints and shadows play off the musicals instruments suspended from the back wall. With only 159 seats in the theatre and a stage surrounded on three sides by the audience, a woman in the front row asks a fellow patron, “Are you ready to be part of the show?” This intimate setting makes the audience feel integrated into the story, and it’s absolutely perfect for Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash – part biography, part musical, and part showcase, and so much more than any one of those.
Ring of Fire is a reimagining and a rediscovery of the iconic rock, country, bluegrass, and gospel songs that make up the life and career of Johnny Cash, and a tour of the Americana roots from which he came. The boom-chicka-boom of the electric guitar and rolling snare of the drums transports you on an express train through the American South – to Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, and more, as the show explores both the light and dark sides of the Man in Black.
The cast artfully guides you through the life, love, and loss of Johnny Cash – from the farm house to the Grand Ole Opry house and beyond – through the music he played and the hymns that inspired him. The ensemble is chock full of talented singers and musicians, each playing a wide range of instruments including the ukulele, resonator, mandolin, banjo, harmonica, fiddle, bass, and guitars – even switching instruments with each other mid-song.
Craig McEldowney depicts the older, more stoic Cash, while Corbin Mayer plays the younger Cash, full of confidence and swagger. Their rich, deep voices and portrayal of the Man in Black play seamlessly off one another, supported by an extremely talented cast. Paul Wyatt supplies slick electric guitar licks and the soaring tenor lines of a barber shop quartet, while Brian Russell Carey’s stage presence, excellent voice, and onstage antics with the larger-than-life stand-up bass are sure to put a smile on your face. Alex Keiper delivers a stand-out performance, with sidesplitting comedic lines, underpinned by impeccable pitch and delivery. With the challenging task of delivering a live performance of some of the most beloved songs in multiple genres and depicting the depth and history of an iconic man and musician, this cast truly walks the line.
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is playing at Actors Theatre from through August 25th, and tickets are available at ActorsTheatre.org. Don’t miss your chance to sing and clap along to this all-American story!