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Laguna Playhouse celebrates the music of Johnny Cash in “Ring of Fire”

Cast of "Ring Of Fire" at the Laguna Playhouse through Feb. 2nd.
Cast of "Ring Of Fire" at the Laguna Playhouse through Feb. 2nd.
Ed Krieger

"Ring Of Fire The Songs of Johnny Cash"

Rating:
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Laguna, CA---- Just recently I had the privilege of seeing “Million Dollar Quartet” at the San Diego Civic Theatre. It was one of the shows brought in by Broadway/San Diego. In it, it told of meeting moons ago, where the stars, moon and sun were all aligned bringing together Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Normally I don’t think much about Mr. Cash. But I do think of his music and the verses he wrote. My Dad was a Country Western fan, and I followed him around listening to that music (along with opera) when I was growing up so I’m not a stranger to his music. I also remember seeing him on TV and especially in 1996 when he was paid tribute at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as an honoree. It may or many not have been a coincident that President Clinton was in office at the time; both hailed from Arkansas. I’ll leave that bit of information to speculation.

That his legacy lives on is quite evident in an another show I saw more recently, “Ring of Fire…The Songs of Johnny Cash”, at The Laguna Playhouse through Feb. 2nd. The show opened on Broadway in 2006 and just recently ended a national tour.

“Ring of Fire…The Songs of Johnny Cash” created by Richard Maltby Jr., (“Aint Misbehavin’), conceived by William Meade and directed by Steve Steiner, is more in the way of a musical revue of the more than two dozen plus of Cash’s songs rather than a life line of his personal story. Any sign of it becoming a biography are soon dispelled.

Tidbits of his family life and their beginnings are thrown in but since there is no follow through, it’s better to enjoy this energetic endeavor for what it is, a jukebox musical, than try to figure out how the dots may be connected.

For this show, however the music speaks for itself, but not necessarily in Cash’s voice. When you have almost a dozen (ten to be exact) singing musicians belting, crooning, dancing to or just plain pumping out the tunes, it’s difficult to get a take on the depth and soul of the ‘The Man in Black’.

He was, after all, a pretty complicated and complex man all at once a drug addict, alcoholic and one who worked in prison as an advocate. He made a pair of recordings, one from Folsom Prison and the other from San Quentin that went gold. He was never an inmate, but spent the night on seven occasions for minor disruptions.

As far as the energy factor, there is no shortage. The players, ten in all with varying degrees of emotional élan invested, work their little arses off up and down the stairs of P&G Designs set that takes up most of the stage. Oft times the smaller of the instruments (guitars of all sizes and shapes) leaning against the lattice work on the lower stage with the bigger (piano, drums, keyboards on top) are picked up and moved to a different, more favorable spot for a particular number. Keeping in mind that almost everyone in the ensemble is working any particular musical piece.

They sing, dance, and play just about every type of stringed instrument you can name and then some up to and including a harmonica, tambourine and a trumpet…well?

The three the gals, Allison Fund, Courtney Rada and Amberly Rosen are a perfect balance to the rest of the all male performers with Amberly playing one mean fiddle, and she dance as well. “Tear Stained Letter” and “Flushed From The Bathroom of my Heart” and “If I were a Carpenter” belonged to her.

Dale Given and Justin Droegemueller who are dressed in black are representative of Cash with Given delivering three powerful and soul searching renderings of the Cash reserve: “Why Me Lord”, “Man in Black”, “I Walk The Line” with Allison, Courtney, Amberly and Justin singing “Folsom Prison Blues”. Keith Schneider’s costume design is definitely Western motif.

Some of my favorites: “Going To Memphis” and “Five Feet High and Rising” done with the entire cast and done well, as was the snappy “I’ve been Everywhere”. But most fun was “Boy Named Sue” and the more popular “In The Sweet By and By” is quite comforting. But it was s thrill to hear “Ring of Fire” with Dale, Amberly, Justin and Allison just as Act I was ending.

Paula Hammonds Sloan choreographed with Romaine Rachline, trained as a dancer with Ailey School and the Broadway Dance Center (“Egg Suckin’ Dog”) looking pretty lively throughout. No question of his training as a dancer. That said, all participated in some pretty fancy foot work; knee slapping' fancy leg work while working the strings. I love it!

The show lasts the better part of two hours with one intermission and from this reviewer’s point of view, could have been a tad bit shorter.That said, everyone in the audience the afternoon I attended, was more than exuberant at show’s end.

So much has already been written about Johnny Cash that you can visit him on johnnycash.com. For a different look at his work, “Ring Of Fire” might just satisfy.

See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Feb. 2nd

Organization: Laguna Playhouse

Phone: 949-497-2787

Production Type: Jukebox Musical

Where: 606 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach

Ticket Prices: $36.00-$71.00

Web: lagunaplayhouse.com

Venue: Laguna Playhouse