Even though the man in black died in 2003, Johnny Cash’s music lives on today.
“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” a musical conceived by William Meade, created by Richard Maltby Jr. with orchestrations by Steven Bishop and Jeff Lisenby, opened Aug. 9 at PART Theatre inside the Crossroads Mall, 7400 Dodge St. in Omaha. Artistic director Gordon Cantiello has a very talented cast of five in this show: Justin Dehmer, Angela Jenson-Frey, Jon Hickerson, Melissa King, and Moira Mangiameli.
For those who might not be familiar with his works, Cash was a songwriter, singer, actor and lived an incredible life. This show does him justice in a very entertaining way. Born in 1932, Cash was the son of a sharecropper in Arkansas during The Depression. He lived through hard times and his songs reflected his life. He was very much at home singing songs to prison inmates, though he was never a prisoner himself. He was beloved by ordinary people because he was one of them. His wife, June Carter Cash, died in 2003; just four months before Johnny did.
As the lights went down in the intimate theater, the actors came on stage and each one announced “I am Johnny Cash.” This is a musical with 19 songs in the first act and 14 songs in the second act. There is a story to follow in the show, but it is told through Cash’s songs. Most of the songs I was very familiar with, but some were new to me. The first act featured “Country Boy” sung by the entire company. “Straight A’s in Love” was sung by King. She has a good voice, as do all five actors in the show. One song I was very familiar with was “Five Feet High and Rising” sung by the company. The song is about the flooding Cash had experienced in his own life in Arkansas. There was mention of his problems with drugs, but it was done very artistically.
“Sweet Bye and Bye” was performed very well by Mangiameli and King. “Daddy Sang Bass” was performed by the company. The title song of “Ring of Fire” was performed by Hickerson and Jenson-Frey. “Jackson,” which had been a popular duet between Johnny and his wife, was performed by the company. “I’ve Been Everywhere” was also performed by the company. Dehmer sang the comedy number “A Boy Named Sue.” Since Cash liked to perform to inmates in prison, “ Folsom Prison Blues” was an audience favorite. Since Cash was known for wearing all-black clothes during his performances, Dehmer performed the song “Man in Black.”
“I Walk the Line” was a song and the title of a 2005 biopic about the Cashs, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny and Reese Witherspoon as June. For the PART’s production, this famous song was sung by the company.
Musical direction is by Jennifer Novak Haar. Haar also conducts the five-piece orchestra and plays keyboards. Other members of the orchestra include: Michael Frey on the fiddle and mandolin; Colin Duckworth on guitar and dobro; Ben Eisenberg on guitar and vocals; and Brandon Armstrong on drums.
“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash” has a first act that lasts one hour and after a 15-minute intermission the second act is 45 minutes. If you are a fan of the “Man in Black” and you remember his songs, this show brings back great memories.
Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays though Sunday. Ticket prices are $35 adults and $30 for seniors. The box office can be reached at 402-706-0778. Be sure to arrive at the theater early for entertaining pre-show music by Rob Lohman and Jean Stiehl.