“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”
That simple, almost shy, introduction launches a night of foot stomping fun in Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash by Richard Maltby, Jr. and William Meade and is currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.
This is one of the more challenging reviews I’ve taken up due to the unique nature of the show. If you’re expecting a story, forget it. If you’re counting on great characterization, it isn’t happening. If you’re looking for a lot of fun, there’s plenty of that and then some. This show is a jukebox musical. There really isn’t much acting. There are snippets of information about the life of Johnny Cash sandwiched between numerous musical numbers of the Man in Black as a loose story of sorts. But this show is a great concert, guaranteed to leave you feeling good when the night is done.
The difficulty in mounting a show of this type is that (aside from the need for great performing chops) it really depends on the staging. To that end, Marc Liby has done sensational work with slick staging that animates all of the musical numbers and showcases the talents of the show’s five performers.
While the entire ensemble was of top quality, I thought the work of Elliot Lane was particularly impressive. He did the most acting and was the Johnny Cashiest of the bunch with a dead on vocal mimicry of the singer. Lane really shone in numbers such as a gutbusting rendition of A Boy Named Sue and Flesh and Blood. Not only was Lane an ace performer, he also proved himself an incredible instrumentalist as he floated between playing guitar, electric mandolin, and just sizzled on the violin.
Andrea Love does double duty as performer and musical director and earns top marks for both. Her confident musical direction shows in the cast’s effortless performances and her pure soprano melted my heart with tunes such as I Still Miss Someone and If I Were a Carpenter.
Wyatt McCall was the most physically suitable Johnny Cash with his rich bass voice and powerful build. McCall was also a very skilled bass player and had a wry sense of humor best utilized in Five Feet High and Rising. But he could turn on the drama just as easily as he proves in Going to Memphis.
Sean Powell was another top performer of the night. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Powell easily moved from the standup bass to the guitar and, man alive, does he have a fabulous tenor voice. I thought Powell had the song of the night with a haunting rendition of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.
Connor Sullivan rounds out the troupe. I see the makings of a great comedic actor in Sullivan with his awesome facial expressions and his sense of timing best demonstrated in Delia’s Gone. He does need to work on his projection a bit as I had trouble hearing him at various points.
Johnny Cash is a true icon of music. While you may not have any great revelations into the life and character of the Man in Black, you certainly will have a high old time enjoying his legendary music.
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 24. Performances are at 2pm on June 26 and July 1, 6, 10, 19, 20, and 24 and at 7:30pm on June 29 and July 22-23. Tickets cost $27 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony. For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.