Everyone knows him: he's got the “Folsom Prison Blues,” he walks the line, he's the Man in Black. Johnny Cash was, and still is, an incredible influence in music, and Nuangola's Theatre at the Grove is giving audiences a fresh look at the country singer's life.
The theater group will open its 2013 season with “Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical Show” this weekend. The production chronicles Cash's career, but with a bit of a twist: Cash himself isn't a character in the show.
“We tell the story of his life without him there,” said director Paul Winarski. “It's set in a honky tonk bar in Nashville, and you watch three couples and, through Cash's music, the story is told.”
The tale is a mere excerpt from Cash's life, following him from his debut at the Grand Ole Opry to Folson County Prison and back to stardom. The musical had a run at Broadway's Barrymore Theater in 2006.
The characters are portrayed by Michael Marone, Jesse McNatt, Bryn Harvey, William Lipski, Dawn Winarski, and Dave Baker.
In addition to these actors, there are seven musicians on stage, a group that Winarski said plays the house band at the bar. “Not only do they play the songs for the actors, some even join them full center stage for a solo,” Winarski described. “This show is all about the music. There are 12 pages of dialogue in a 58-page script.”
Some of the songs in the show include “Walk the Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Boy Named Sue,” and “Ring of Fire.”
The air of intrigue about Cash and his life is ever-present despite the fact he's not a character. So what is it about the country crooner that draws people in, warranting a production focused entirely on his person?
“What it is about Cash is that he transcends musical genre,” Winarski said. “There are very few people in the music world that do that. (Frank) Sinatra, Elvis Presley and The Beatles: those are some of the few others.”
Though the show seems to have a pretty narrow focus, it doesn't limit audiences to just Cash fans.
“You don't have to be a country music aficionado to love this show,” Winarski said. “It's just great music. Cash was a poet. His music combines perfectly with his lyrics. It speaks to everyone.”