Thursday, July 18, 2013

ASF: "Ring of Fire"

Few singers have as legendary a life and career as Johnny Cash, "the man in black" who bridged country music, rockabilly, and gospel, and whose songs told the several stories of his life and loves, his hard drinking and regrets, his rowdiness and his 'turn to Jesus, his concern for the poor and those who suffer indignities imposed by war and social injustice.

Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, is a tribute to this icon. Showing at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, over 35 signal pieces from the Johnny Cash songbook are performed by four principals -- Trenna Barnes, Allison Briner, Jason Edwards (who also directs), and Johnny Kinnaird -- whose impressive talents are joined by a band whose members -- John England, Walter Hartman, Scott Icenogle, Brantley Kearns, Jeff Lisenby, and Brent Moyer --play an assortment of instruments while doing double duty as characters who help tell the stories.

Their collected talents create a sometimes joyous, sometimes angry, sometimes contemplative, sometimes nostalgic, but consistently engaging and crowd-pleasing evening in the theatre. And because Cash appeals to almost all musical tastes, there is something in it for everyone.

Some time is spent with narrative links to Cash's upbringing and the major public events of his life, this is not an attempt to impersonate the man -- rather to celebrate him and his music. And while the featured actors/singers physically and vocally resemble Cash and June Carter, the focus is on the music and the story-messages in the songs.

So audiences eagerly clap their hands and stomp their feet to an energetic rendering of "Daddy Sang Bass", "Jackson", or the title song "Ring of Fire" that ends the first act, or laugh at the antics of novelty numbers like "Egg Suckin' Dog" or "A Boy Named Sue", or reflect on the import of "Folsom Prison Blues" or "Man in Black", or are touched by the simple declarations of faith in "The Far Side of Jordan", what is ultimately revealed is a man whose complex life is told with compassion and humor, and respect.

A welcome respite from the heat of Summer, Ring of Fire helps restore a sense of worth and allows us to reflect on our own values. Simple things are often the most redemptive; we succeed by struggling; and home and faith give a solid foundation to our lives...and music can make the journey worthwhile.