BWW Review: RING OF FIRE at SHEA'S 710 THEATRE
RING OF FIRE PROVES TO BE A ROLLICKING CROWD PLEASER
Much has changed throughout the city Buffalo in recent years, including it's theatrical scene. A coming home of sorts is happening at SHEA'S 710 THEATRE. RING OF FIRE- THE MUSIC OF Johnny Cash has returned to the stage where the production began. In 2006 Studio Arena Theatre produced this jukebox musical created by Richard Maltby Jr and conceived by William Meade. After a short run that earned much local praise, the production moved to Broadway, something not typical for Buffalo. Unfortunately the New York critics and audiences were less enthusiastic, and the production shuttered after a very brief run. But RING OF FIRE, much like Studio Arena and Buffalo itself, was to have it's own rebirth. A reworked version in 2013 by Maltby and Jason Edwards has become much more of a success and audiences across the United States have been quite receptive. Amherst's MusicalFare Theatre presentation from last season is now playing out in a lively and pitch perfect production.
RING OF FIRE is much more of a celebration of the life of Johnny Cash than a theatrical play. This concept places the focus on the strengths of this American musical legend's song writing. Instead of shoe-horning a life story into Cash's music, like some other recent jukebox failures ( ALL SHOOK UP about Elvis Presley), this adaptation allows the music to suggest the thoughts and actions of the man, with minimal commentary by the cast. There are no names given to the cast or musicians, who share in all parts of the production. Whether billed as a musical play or a concert, the event is quite worthy, given the high quality production it is receiving here again in Buffalo
Director/Choreographer Michael Walline has assembled such a multi-talented cast that their unique talents are an embarrassment of riches. Each of the 5 cast members sing and play multiple instruments, not including the 3 billed billed as Musicians, Theresa Quinn, Philip Farugia and Maggie Zindle- who also sing! Snippets of Cash's history inform us of Cash's early family life, his chance hearing by SUN records and his marriage.
The catalog of Cash's music is voluminous, and the evening includes the hits you expect, plus some lesser known. When not playing the fiddle, washboard, spoons, accordion, guitars, bass or drums, the singers rise to the Country stylings required. Co music director Farugia shines in the title song, as well as "Man in Black," a prime example of learning the details of Cash's life and how his black attire showed deference to those who are suffering in life. Katie Clark is a spitfire and gives a nod to June Carter Cash in her very funny "Flushed From the Bathroom of your Heart." Her winning smile made her a small dynamo on the stage. Pianist and co musical director Theresa Quinn knows how to deliver those heart wrenching Cash lyrics, delivering a touching "I Still Miss Someone."
Steve Copps captivated the audience in "Folsom Prison Blues" while Kevin Craig made one take pause over the perplexing lyrics of "Delia's Gone." Zak Ward proved his harmonica skills were not to reckoned with, while enjoying every minute of his electric guitar riffs. Maggie Zindle on the violin provided the right amount of sappiness that goes with those sad songs, while kicking up her heels when "fiddle" playing was needed. Bob Mazierski was often also the talented percussionist, but drums were not always needed. Tapping on boxes, stamping feet and clanging tin cups served the music just fine.
Set design by Chris Schenk provided multiple playing areas, all made of a series of planks, suspended lights and outline of a barn. Effective lighting by Chris Cavanagh pulled out all the stops for full cast numbers like "Daddy Sang Bass" and "I've Been Everywhere," but dimmed to near complete darkness in more poignant numbers.
It was a pleasure to see such a large audience back in SHEA'S 710 THEATRE, reminiscent of the former glory days of STUDIO ARENA. The audience seemed to want to be nowhere else but right there, enjoying a tribute to one of America's most beloved musicians. RING OF FIRE has settled in for a 3 week journey that surely shouldn't be missed by anyone who loves theatre, Johnny Cash, or just a down right good night of entertainment.
RING OF FIRE- THE MUSIC OF Johnny Cash , in a production by MusicalFare Theatre, is presented at SHEA'S 710 THEATRE. It runs from February 16 through March 5, 2017. For further information contact www.sheas.org/710main.