Good music never dies, and at the “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” at Stages Repertory Theatre, the music never ends either.
“Ring of Fire” is the story of the country-music icon’s life set to his own songs in a type of musical biography. It doesn’t feel like the average musical theater, it’s more like a fusion between a country music concert and a play. Honestly, I didn’t know that much about the life of the man in black, just that his lived experiences inspired his music. His family farm flooding when he was a child inspired the song “Five Feet High and Rising,” and hearing it made me think of Hurricane Harvey.
The actors who play Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are married on and off stage. Husband and wife duo Ben Hope and Katie Barton have performed as Mr. and Mrs. Cash in “Ring of Fire” in multiple cities across the country. Their chemistry on stage couldn’t be more authentic. It’s clear that music is their life, and playing the Cash couple has become part of it too. They are both so natural in their roles, it makes sense that they have done it for years. However, I still felt suspense in the show, as if Johnny proposed to June for the first time live in front of my eyes.
Each of the five performers are talented musicians as well as actors, playing a variety of instruments and singing Cash’s wide range of songs. They seamlessly transition between dialogue to singing, but the lyrics are the bulk of the show.
Marcy McGuigan switches between a diverse set of characters, and wigs—from Johnny Cash’s mother to his first wife Vivian Liberto. Eric Scott Anthony’s performance of being a convict and shooting Delia in “Delia’s Gone” as an inmate in “Folsom Prison Blues” is pricelessly funny.
I recognized more of Johnny Cash’s songs than I thought I would, and I enjoyed the performance more than I expected as well. If you love classic country and Johnny Cash, or grew up listening to it, this is a must-see show. If you like country music at all, you will love Johnny Cash after this performance.
“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” at Stages Repertory Theatre off Allen Parkway is playing through September 2. Tickets start at $25.