by Clark Groome
While there were always some of Johnny Cash’s songs that I really liked — most notably “A Boy Named Sue,” “I Walked the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” — I was never a great fan. At least not until I saw “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern last weekend.
The show, while not specifically autobiographical, presents two hours of music associated with Cash and with his life from its beginnings in Arkansas to his time in Memphis and later at the Grand Ole Opry to his ABC-TV show and his prison tours.
“The Man in Black,” as he was known because of his standard stage costume, is the central focus of “Ring of Fire,” but Cash is not portrayed by one but rather three extraordinary musical performers: Neil Friedman, David M. Lutken and Sam Sherwood.
Richard Maltby Jr. (who was also responsible for “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Fosse,” “Song and Dance” and “Closer Than Ever”) created the show, which plays through Aug. 14. The People’s Light production is directed just about perfectly by Sherry Lutken and features James F. Pyne Jr.’s set design, Marla Jurglanis’ colorful costumes, Gregory Scott Miller’s lighting and Lucas Fendlay’s sound.
But it is the extraordinary cast performing more than 30 songs orchestrated by Steven Bishop and Jeff Lisenby that makes “Ring of Fire” the impressive theatrical delight it is.
Not only does the cast of nine (in addition to Friedman, Lutken and Sherwood, Eric Scott Anthony, Jon Brown, Myssa Duchow, Michael Hicks, Deb Lyons and Helen Jean Russell make up the ensemble) sing well, but they all play multiple instruments, including electric, acoustic and steel guitars, mandolin, violin, bass, keyboard, trumpet, accordion, harmonicas, drums and miscellaneous percussion and even a zither.
You might think it was all sort of haphazard but quite the opposite. Each performer is a multi-talented actor/singer/musician who not only performs well but also radiates an energy and enthusiasm for the material that is infectious and entertaining.
This is as good a musical ensemble as I have seen in ages. And the music is top drawer from the prologue to the encore two hours later.
For tickets call 610-644-3500 or visit www.peopleslight.org.