Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical Show
May 7-9, 15-16, 8 p.m.
May 10, 5 p.m.
The Village Playhouse
730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant
Back when Johnny Cash had his television variety show, he demonstrated with every program that he stood at the crossroads of American popular music. With open arms, he welcomed just about any musical style. It all spoke to him.
He invited the likes of James Taylor, Louis Armstrong, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan to entertain his audience. As diverse as his guest list was, Cash understood that these musicians all had one thing in common: they knew how to tell an American story in song.
It was a story that belonged to him, too. He had lived it, struggled with it, and when he won through, he transformed himself into the Man in Black, someone who could be counted on to take the little guy's side. In doing so, Cash became a symbol of the American saga himself.
Ring of Fire lets John R. Cash relate that American tale in his own music and lyrics. It's all here. Growing up dirt-poor, wrestling with family tragedy, striking out on his own, emerging as a songwriter, finding June Carter, the love of his life. Village Playhouse devoted a spirited evening to letting the man behind the story emerge from his own words.
At the start each cast member — three men and three women — introduce themselves with Johnny's trademark phrase, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," as if to underscore that his story is Everyman (and Everywoman's) story.
All the great songs — over two dozen of them — get their turn in the spotlight. From "Walk the Line" to "Boy Named Sue" to "Sunday Morning Coming Down," his buddy Kris Kristofferson's song about addiction, the high and low points of Cash's life unfold.
Kathy Summer's great, big voice reigns throughout the evening. Her Minnie Pearl interlude during the Grand Ole Opry sequence is gleefully over the top. Equally hilarious, the boys — Dusty Bryant, Bill Sandvig, and Michael Easler — assemble for "Egg Suckin' Dog," a number that would easily have slipped into an episode of Hee Haw. Jenna Brinson delivers a lovely rendition of "All Over Again." Lara Allred and Bill Sandvig's "If I Were A Carpenter" rang true.
My vote for most affecting ensemble piece is easily awarded: the medley that begins with the old standard "Angel Band" and weaves its way into "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" pulled out all the stops for heart-tugging emotion.
It made an already vibrant evening all the more memorable.
The Village Playhouse reprises Ring of Fire for Piccolo Spoleto, May 22-June 7.