BWW Review: RING OF FIRE Captivates at Syracuse Stage

BWW Review: RING OF FIRE Captivates at Syracuse Stage
Members of the cast of Syracuse Stage's production of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. Photo by Michael Davis.

Syracuse Stage ends its season with the jukebox musical Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. The musical, created by Richard Maltby Jr. and conceived by William Meade with orchestrations by Steven Bishop and Jeff Lisenby, features the familiar and well-loved music of Johnny Cash. So, expect to hear hits such as "Ring of Fire," "Get Rhythm," "Going to Memphis," "Jackson," "I Walk the Line," just to name a few.

The show gives a back story of the country life that young Johnny Cash was born into and the struggles that everyday workers had to deal with, which inspired many of his songs.

The intimate production, directed by Randal Myler, showcases some amazing music and talent - both the instrumentalists and the singers are top-notch. It is both inspiring and entertaining as it pays tribute to The Man in Black.

There is technically no specific character listed in the playbill as 'Johnny Cash.' Two different principal actors step in and out of the role of the singer. Benjamin D. Hale portrays young Johnny Cash and Brian Mathis portrays older Johnny Cash. Likewise, two other principals step in and out of the role of Johnny's girlfriend and then wife. Young June Carter is portrayed by Trenna Barnes and older June Carter is portrayed by Allison Briner-Dardenne.

What makes the show unique and entertaining is the fact that the onstage musicians also play other characters and serve as ensemble in many of the musical numbers. The result is captivating entertainment as the actors and musicians come together on a highly-detailed and functional set by John Iacovelli.

The Sunday, June 11th matinee that I attended did begin with a slight issue. When the music began and the projection of a picture of Johnny Cash came up, the sound system cut out. However, being the professional theatre that Syracuse Stage is, the sound (designed by Jonathan Herter) was back up and running within about five minutes. The joys of live theatre. The show then went on to showcase the amazing talents of the principal actors and the musicians under the impressive and fabulous musical direction of Jeff Lisenby, who also entertains on keyboard and accordion.

Principal actor Trenna Barnes is mesmerizing as she portrays young June Carter on and off again throughout the show. She also steps into a role of Johnny Cash's sister in the beginning of show as it reveals Johnny Cash's life growing up on a farm in the country. Her lovely voice soars in many of the musical numbers. Her sassy vocals and comedic spunk shine on "Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart," and "Cry, Cry, Cry."

Allison Briner-Dardenne's vocals steals the spotlight every time she belts out those familiar Johnny Cash songs such as "Daddy Sang Bass/Will the Circle be Unbroken," "Jackson," "All Over Again," and many more. Her powerful and expressive pipes are pure joy to experience. She portrays the sassy spitfire June Carter perfectly thanks to her natural comedic charm.

Benjamin D. Hale is charming as he portrays the young Johnny Cash. His standout moment is "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Brian Mathis portrays the older version of Johnny Cash with such warmth, professionalism, and maturity. He is perfection as The Man in Black. His deep and mysterious voice lends itself well to "Let the Train Blow the Whistle," "Ring of Fire," and "Man in Black."

Denise Patton's choreography and the musicians also make an impression as they take center stage.

Michael Monroe Goodman (singer/musician/ensemble member) is impressive. He effortlessly acts, sings, and plays instruments; his talents are truly engaging. He is most memorable in "Delia's Gone," portraying a criminal in prison. Walter Hartman entertains on drums and as an ensemble member. Evan J. Marshall, an internationally-renowned fiddler and mandolin virtuoso, easily charms the audience with his skills. John W. Marshall (ensemble member and musician on upright bass) is highly comedic and shows off his amazing skills each time he takes the spotlight. He is a true showman. Brent Moyer entertains as an ensemble member and on guitar and trumpet.

There are many breathtaking and entertaining moments throughout the show. One of the most enjoyable moments for me is when the older versions and the younger versions of Johnny Cash and June Carter stood side by side performing songs as a quartet. Another standout musical moment is "I've Been Everywhere." Each performer plays a guitar, so there were ten guitars in all. It is intoxicating. Other memorable music numbers include "In the Sweet By and By," "Tear Stained Letter," "Tennessee Flat-Top Box," "Oh Come, Angel Band," "Going to Memphis," and the breathtaking "The Far Side Banks of Jordan."

Syracuse Stage ends its season on a strong note with this highly memorable and captivating production of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. Don't miss your chance to hear some amazing music and see some astounding talents in this very unique and intimate jukebox musical.

Running time: Approximately two hours and ten minutes with one fifteen-minute intermission.

Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash runs through June 25, 2017 at Syracuse Stage, 820 East Genesee Street, Syracuse, NY 13210. For tickets and information on this production and upcoming productions, call the box office at 315-443-3275 or click here.

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