“Ring of Fire” is about as good a Johnny Cash concert as you can get, short of the Man in Black himself rising from the grave for an encore.
An ensemble of nine realizes Cash’s music in the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse’s latest show with talent and fiery reverence. The 36-song set list forges a rocking impression of the music legend, mixing funny numbers like “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” and “Delia’s Gone” with heartfelt confessionals like “I Still Miss Someone” and “Hurt.”
Though there’s no story to the show, some songs are presented more visually than others. The story of “A Boy Named Sue” culminates with a hilarious bar room brawl on the playhouse stage, and the cast dons stripes and shackles for the chain gang spiritual “Going to Memphis.” These skillfully choreographed vignettes boost the music, but the players certainly don’t need the support.
Given Cash’s inimitable cult of personality, it’s probably for the best that no single person in “Ring of Fire” portrays the icon. Neil Friedman’s haunting performance of “Hurt” casts him as a latter-day Cash early in the show, and he wears the part when he sings “Man in Black” in the second act. Director and performer David M. Lutken comes off as a ’60s-era Cash, and his spirited duets with Deb Lyons on songs like “Ring of Fire” suggest she’s the June Carter to Lutken’s Johnny. Ben Hope’s lively rendition of “Straight A’s in Love,” with the female performers swooning and vying for his attention, suggest he’s Cash’s 1950s, pre-Sun Records incarnation.
But everybody gets their turn to be Cash in “Ring of Fire,” singing with arresting passion while the other players alternate on backing instruments. All nine sling a guitar over their shoulders and take turns listing cities Cash visited during show-stopper “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
The only time I missed Cash himself was during “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” when the singers fell a bit short of capturing the vocal personality of Cash and Carter. Otherwise, “Ring of Fire” is definitely what you’re looking for... babe.
David Wilcox can be reached at 282-2245 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at drwilcox
If you go
What: “Ring of Fire”
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22; continues through Oct. 9
Where: Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Emerson Park, Route 38A, Owasco
Cost: Tickets $34-$40
Info: Call 255-1785 or visit www.merry-go-round.com
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