Modern-day music fans obviously can’t see the late Johnny Cash in concert, so the next best thing is to settle comfortably into a spirited retrospective interpretation of his work.
That would be Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, originally a Broadway production of Cash's music, is a loose outline of the legendary singer-songwriter’s life done in short monologues and vignettes. Ring of Fire plays through June 10 at Casa Mañana Theatre.
Cash fans who are looking for a spot-on impersonation of their hero should rent the DVD of the film Walk the Line. The idea here is nuance. All those people on stage are not specifically portraying Cash and his family in the vignettes, but are instead adding some visual interpretation of the songs. The performance pieces depicting stage shows of Johnny and wife June Carter Cash are impressionistic impersonations of the legendary Man in Black at various stages of his career.
The cast includes four principal singer-actors (two men and two women) and a versatile six-member cadre of musicians that double as actors and singers in group scenes. Many have performed in Ring of Fire productions before, others have toured with country musicians.
Jason Edwards, a member of the original Broadway cast of Ring of Fire, is also director of the Casa production as well as one of the principals. His Man In Black is a strong and resolute summation of Cash’s philosophy.
Trenna Barnes, who eloquently nailed the loneliness in I Still Miss Someone, is lead singer of a country group called Cowboy Crush. She has performed on concert tours with Charlie Daniels, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and Alan Jackson.
Troy Burgess has been in concert productions with Michael Jackson, Cher, and Whitney Houston, and played Hank Williams on Broadway in Nobody Lonesome For Me.
Jeri Sager has played the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, though her career on Broadway includes the blockbusters Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, Evita and Cats.
For those of us lucky enough to have seen Johnny Cash perform live, it’s bittersweet to see these very talented and capable artists performing his material. They’re entertaining and personable, and to their credit, not setting out to mimic Cash.
They are good enough to stir memories of what a dramatic and complex artist Cash really was, and how his imposing presence could dominate a stage. The contradictions of his life, from his hardscrabble 1930s childhood through the salad days of rockabilly and country music, to his death in 2003 at age 71, made him an iconic Everyman and infused his timeless music.
Of course, the music itself is the biggest star on stage. Cash’s most well-known songs, from the trumpet intro of the title cut to I Walk the Line, Cry, Cry, Cry, Boy Named Sue, Folsom Prison Blues and Daddy Sang Bass, all drew applause from the Saturday night Casa crowd.
But ensemble offerings provided some of the most delightful surprises of the night.A grim prison-yard segment was the perfect setting for Going to Memphis, Orleans Parish Prison and Folsom Prison Blues. Fiddle player Brantley Kearns, a veteran of Dwight Yoakam’s band, did a lighter version of the edgy Delia’s Gone, translating the stark tale of murder into an inmate’s matter-of-fact confessional.
The entire cast joined in on an invigorating 10-guitar barrage with lightning-fast lyrics including dozens (maybe hundreds?) of city and town names in I’ve Been Everywhere.
It’s enough to make us all miss someone.
Ring of Fire
When: Through Sunday, June 10
Recommended for: This show is suitable for most audiences, parental discretion is advised.
Where:Casa Mañana Theatre, 3101 West Lancaster Ave, Fort Worth, TX 76107