BWW Review: Scott Moreau Celebrates the Man in Black
Maine State Music Theatre kicked off its Monday Concert Series with three sold-out performances (June 15-17) of Scott Moreau's original Johnny Cash tribute concert, WALKIN' THELINE. Moreau's identification with Cash is deep and unerring, and he brings to his portrayal of the iconic singer not only a mellifluous bass-baritone, but also the skills of a fine actor combining them into a truly remarkable theatrical experience.
Moreau has played Cash countless times in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET on national tour and in regional theatres across the country, as well as performing RING OF FIRE, another concert program based on Cash's music, but WALKIN' THE LINE is his own creation, and it has special substance and flow. From the instant he steps to the microphone and says, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," we believe him entirely, and for the next two plus hours, Moreau takes his audience on a journey through Cash's greatest hits - arranged roughly in chronological order - as he sets each of them in context with anecdotes and snatches of dialogue. The twenty-six numbers are sequenced to create an appealing flow, alternating rousing pieces with more soulful ballads. His conversation with the audience, written as if Cash were delivering it in his own day, often has an uncanny contemporaneity - such as when he talks about veterans or war (Cash in the Vietnam era, but applicable to today's conflicts and crises.)
As a vocalist, Moreau offers a real treat: an ebony bass-baritone capable of astoundingly secure notes below the staff, silky, sexy, cajoling and compelling without any of the gravelly sound of the late Cash, himself. Moreau also captures perfectly Cash's twang and the cadences of his Arkansas speech, and he has mastered the singer's gestures, physical stance, way of handling a guitar, and little facial quirks.
Moreau is backed by an excellent quartet of musicians: the stunning Kurt Jenkins on electric guitar, JR McAlexander eliciting a wide range of nuance from the keyboards, David Sonnenborn on the sonorously pulsating bass, and Joe Cosmo Cogen providing the electric beat of the drums.
Each of the songs is a gem, and Moreau proves himself equally at home in the driving rhythmic songs such as "Get Rhythm" as he is in the big ballads which made Cash a star. From the opening "Folsom Prison Blues," to the throbbing "Ring of Fire," to the haunting "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and the tender "I Walk the Line" this is music making at its best. But perhaps Moreau is finest in the narrative songs which tell gritty, funny, edgy stories about their characters. His renditions of "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" and "Long Black Veil" are chilling; there is heart-rending pathos in "Give My Love to Rose" and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," passionate activism in "Man in Black, " and mordent humor in "A Boy Names Sue."
Just after the final number and before the encore, Scott Moreau steps out of character as Johnny Cash and introduces himself with "Hello, I'm Scott Moreau." And he takes the opportunity to thank his hometown Maine and MSMT audience noting that this evening is the 20th anniversary of his professional debut as an actor with this very company. Speaking in heartfelt terms, he talks about the magic of those early experiences with MSMT that have stayed with him throughout his career. And as he does so, one cannot help but feel that Scott Moreau, as an artist and in these performances, is returning that magical gift to his public so many times over.
Photograph courtesy of MSMT
Scott Moreau will return to MSMT in the 2020 season. The remaining Monday night concerts take place on July 1 and July 29, 2019 at MSMT's Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769 www.msmt.org