BWW Reviews: RING OF FIRE Tells the Story of Johnny Cash Through Song

RING OF FIRE is a jukebox musical based on the music of Johnny Cash. The main problem with the show's original concept was that it didn't tell the story of the Man in Black. The show originally used 38 musical numbers to try to portray "a mosaic of American experience". That original Broadway production only lasted a month.

Richard Maltby, Jr. and Jason Edwards went back to the drawing board and re-conceived the show. The show originally consisted of sixteen cast members and musicians. In this new incarnation, the cast was trimmed to five actor/musicians, the songs were trimmed back to 25 and Johnny Cash's music now tells the story of his life.

RING OF FIRE contains minimal dialogue (almost a Cliff Notes version of Cash's life), but this new version, currently being staged by TexARTS, does allow the audience to experience the ups and downs of the legendary, deeply troubled artist, using his music to comment on his life. And this TexARTS production is a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Director Sarah Gay has done a great job of staging here and the show zips along, never failing to entertain. The tech for this production is uniformly excellent. Teena Sauvola has created a multipurpose set that immediately invokes a country music sensibility. I especially liked the creative repurposing of wooden palettes as framing for the band and action and the ever changing lighting inside them. Stephen Pruitt's lighting constantly morphs to accentuate the performers and set mood. Bobby Moffett's costuming is quite good, and I was especially impressed with the attention to detail, down to the shape of the pants to be faithful to the period.

The band does an excellent job here and all three (Paul Koudouris, Walt Roberts and Bradley Shelton) are to be commended.

The performances in RING OF FIRE are solid throughout; however, there are three who really stand out in this production. Brittany Allyson is outstanding as June Carter Cash, with some really great moments musically, particularly in "Flush From The Bathroom Of Your Heart". As Johnny Cash, Rob Franco is electrifying, and delivers a moving performance of "Sunday Morning Coming Down". However, it is the voice of Julie Foster that you'll remember most from this production. I look forward to hearing her sing again...soon...and just about anything.

In short, RING OF FIRE is a memorable portrait of one of country music's most fascinating performers being skillfully staged by performers who do justice to his legacy.

RING OF FIRE created by Richard Maltby, Jr., conceived by William Meade. Adapted from the Broadway production by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Jason Edwards.

Running time: One Hour and 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

RING OF FIRE, produced by TexARTS, playing in The Cam & James Morris Theatre (Erin Doherty Studios, 2300 Lohman's Spur, Suite #160, Lakeway, Tx.) July 17-18, 24-25 at 7:30 p.m.; July 19, 26 at 2 p.m. Individual tickets start at $40. Reservations: at www.tex-arts.org or call the TexARTS Box Office at 512-852-9079 x101.

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From This Author Frank Benge

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