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Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical Show

a Musical Revue
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Richard Maltby, Jr. (Conceived by William Meade)

COMPANY : Georgia Ensemble Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Georgia Ensemble Theatre and Conservatory [WEBSITE]
ID# 4248

SHOWING : April 12, 2012 - April 29, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

We’re gonna raise the roof with this barn-burner of a musical that celebrates the songs of an American legend, The Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. This thrilling show will feature an ensemble of many of your favorite GET singers and musicians who will make Ring of Fire an extraordinary theatrical event to add to our rich history of high energy, sold-out, foot-stomping musicals!


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Robert Farley
Ensemble Scott DePoy
Ensemble Denise Hillis
Ensemble Chris Irwin
Ensemble Tracy Moore
Ensemble Mark W. Schroeder
Ensemble Jeremy Wood
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Juke Joint Musical
by Dedalus
Friday, April 27, 2012
4.0
Johnny Cash is, unarguably, an icon of American popular music. Equally at home with country, pop, rock, and gospel, his hits always defied easy categorization, other than the fact that, throughout his fifty-plus-year career, a whole bunch of different kinds of folks really really liked a whole bunch of his recordings.

In 2005, “Ring of Fire,” a “juke box musical” of his songbook became a hit in small studio theatres around the country, but its 2006 transition to Broadway only survived a month. Based on this energetic production by Georgia Ensemble Theatre, it’s not hard to speculate why.

Essentially a concert with no story arc and only minimal narration, “Ring of Fire” stands or falls on the merits of its cast and on the fan-base of Mr. Cash himself. And, that fan support is, I suppose, based more on the man himself than his songs. Johnny Cash could (and did) fill Madison Square Garden, but, I imagine the songs themselves performed by not-Johnny-Cash could not be expected to do the same.

Which is a shame, because many of them are classics of Americana, tuneful longings, exuberant celebrations, and wistful reminiscences. In GET’s production, only one performer (the awesome Chris Irwin) even comes close to reminding us of the rugged macho appeal of Mr. Cash, but everyone, singly or in chorus, is firmly able to run the distance with whatever song is on the table.

I do believe the show would have been better served by a set suggesting a country “juke joint” rather than the idyllic (idealic?) farmhouse of Mr. Cash’s youth, or a wider distribution of the block of slow down-beat numbers which leaves a “black hole” in the middle of Act II. But it is definitely all the better for abandoning the Broadway production’s “mixed couples” concept (the cast composed of three couples of various ages representing different stages of Mr. Cash’s life) – the idea always struck me as oddly pretentious and limiting, and I welcome its non-appearance here.

In this production, we have six very able performers (two women, three men, and a drummer) who take turns in the spotlight and on the accompaniment, playing their own pianos and guitars and harmonicas and basses and accordions (is there anything Mark Schroeder DOESN’T play?), and engaging in “tag-team” groupings for duets, trios and full-harmony numbers. They are, more or less, playing themselves, and, in the context of this show, there is absolutely nothing wrong (and much that is right) about that approach.

Joining Mr. Irwin and Mr. Schroeder are Jeremy Wood, Scott Depoy, Tracy Vaden Moore, and Denise Hillis, with J.R. Hawkins on drums (and a few patter choruses of “I’ve Been Everywhere”). All have moments to shine and all interact and harmonize and blend with compelling skill and apparent ease (Mr. Irwin’s contribution as Musical Director is a definite asset). I liked this show far more than I expected to, and it gave me a new appreciation for many old favorites, and even a few numbers that barely registered on my radio-radar at the time of their release.

To be honest, there are some Johnny Cash songs I really don’t like (“Ragged Old Flag” always irritated me by its patriotic pandering and its exclusion of anything American not associated with a war or battle, and I find it hard to sympathize with the “hero” of “Folsom Prison Blues”). But, taken as a whole, these songs paint a diverse and compelling portrait of middle America, illustrate the life of a troubadour who created a memorable “living on the edge” persona, and remind us of how much fun it is to sit in a juke joint, dance with your lady (or a stranger), pound your feet to a compulsive rhythm, or just cry in your beer.

GET’s “Ring of Fire” is a “Juke Joint” “cover concert” of the songs that made Johnny Cash great, and a celebration of the man who sold them to us.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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