Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wetumpka Depot: "Ring of Fire"

It hardly matters whether or not you're a fan of the music of Johnny Cash when you witness the wealth of talent on the Wetumpka Depot stage in their production of Ring of Fire: the Music of Johnny Cash. -- The vitality of the ensemble cast and their abundant musical talents in singing and playing an array of musical instruments, keep this celebration of the man and his music in high gear for almost two hours.

Country, Gospel, Bluegrass, and Spiritual all have their place in Cash's career, and are given plenty of attention in this production: not a biographical story, but one which contains narrative snippets that put the songs in context and showcase the skills of the eight actors and a one person back-up band in the person of Donny Tomlin who effortlessly switches from banjo to mandolin to an assortment of other instruments that accompany the on-stage performers and add substance to their playing and singing.

Gavin Fuller, Rebecca Ivey, Kim Mason, Tom Salter, Cindy Veasey, Jimmy Veasey, Jonathan Yarboro, and Jenny Whisenhunt comprise this multi-talented ensemble. In solo and group numbers, they play guitar, bass, violin, piano, mandolin, ukulele, spoons, washboard, slide whistle, and more while they take audiences on a high powered musical journey.

Equally comfortable in the various musical genres, they bring strong singing voices to the fore and connect truthfully to the lyrics of both serious and humorous novelty pieces. Quieter reflective moments like "I Still Miss Someone" [Ms. Ivey] and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" [Mr. Yarboro] are countered by "While I've Got it on My Mind" [Ms. Whisenhunt and Mr. Yarboro], "Straight As in Love" [Mr. Fuller], "Egg Suckin' Dog" [Mr. Salter and Ms. Veasey] and "Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart" [Ms. Mason].

And some of Cash's most iconic songs are given deserved attention: "Daddy Sang Bass" [Mr. Salter, Mr. Fuller, and Company], "Jackson" [Ms. Veasey, Mr. Veasey and Company], "Ring of Fire" [Ms. Whisenhunt and Mr. Yarboro], "I Walk the Line" [Ms. Mason and Mr. Veasey], "Folsom River Blues" [Mr. Veasey, Mr. Salter, and Mr. Yarboro], and Cash's tribute to the downtrodden and overlooked people of this world "Man in Black" [Mr. Veasey].

Director Kristy Meanor moves her actors around a simple open area and platform set to accommodate the 30+ songs that come at us with barely a breath between them. And with stunning wigs by Matthew Oliver, and several costume changes that highlight moments in Cash's long career, the production is as visually appealing as the music is engaging.

Audiences are tapping their collective feet and sometimes singing along to their favorite songs. In a production that emphasizes simple values and abundant faith, Ring of Fire: the Music of Johnny Cash serves as a welcome entertainment to lift our spirits.