From start to finish, “Ring of Fire – Music of Johnny Cash” performed by a talented ensemble at Covedale Center for the Performing Arts in Cincinnati rings true to Cash’s music, including hits “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “A Boy Named Sue.” The show opened September 5 with a run through September 29 to an appreciative audience.
For those of us who remember Johnny Cash, who lived from 1932 to 2003, the songs are a throwback to country music with a strong appeal to human emotions. He made his first single, “Hey Porter,” which the cast performed, in 1955 for Sun Records. By 1958, he moved to Columbia Records, but fought periods of drug abuse during the 1960’s. His life turned around when he married singer June Carter Cash in 1968. From there, he continued to record, appear in movies and write an autobiography entitled “Man in Black”. After several years of ill health, he died of complications from diabetes on September 12, 2003, only a few months after the death of his wife June with whom he often collaborated in song.
The production is split into two acts with a cast of three men and three women singing 34 Johnny Cash standards backed by a six-member band led by Michael Kennedy. Directed and choreographed by 40-year veteran Leslie JB Hood, the show features solid performances by such standouts as Jason David Collins, an Equity member candidate, and Tanya Williams, making her Covedale debut. Some highlights of the show are “Five Feet High,” “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” “Jackson” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Somewhat disappointing in acting and singing is Katie Hamilton-Meier, who doesn’t quite embody June Carter Cash’s persona.
Costume designer Caren Young has outfitted her cast in authentic country clothes with blue jeans and farm prints along with a quilt of many colors. Even the musicians carry out the theme: Christine Prindle plays the fiddle in a red dress reminiscent of a square dancing outfit.
Sets captured the Johnny Cash feel with pictures of the musician in the background, a make-shift prison, a small farmhouse and the Grand Ole Opry. Americana was depicted at many levels, including growing cotton, a flood, gospel music, love songs, prisons, a wooden fence and the US flag.
While not great theatre, “Ring of Fire” offers an evening of favorite songs.