RING OF FIRE – The Music of Johnny Cash
Created by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Conceived by William Meade
In the Music’s Thrall – Johnny-Cash-Musical in Vienna’s English Theatre.
Vienna’s English Theatre is currently presenting a must-see for all afficionados of American Country Music, but equally an entertaining evening for other music-lovers, too: the European premiere of the Musical, “Ring of Fire – The Music of Johnny Cash” by Richard Maltby Jr. and William Meade is a real hit with audiences, despite the fact that it isn’t really a play, as such, at all, but rather a concert with biographical inserts. However, this concert, on a stage decorated with wooden planks and framed with black and and white pictures from Johnny Cash’s youth, packs a real punch. Directed by Sherry Lutken, the six, oh so musical singers are captivating, as an ensemble particularly in the number, „I’ve Been Everywhere“; alternately they all play a variety of instruments and exude a delightful love for their task.
David M. Lutken leads the strong ensemble – Michael Hicks, Megan Loomis, Morgan Morse, Helen Jean Russell, Sam Sherwood – and his voice is uncannily reminiscent of Cash. Of course, the evening comes up trumps with the original songs of Johnny Cash (1932-2003), known as the „Man in Black“, whose rise from „Country Boy“ to successful, deeply religious singer is sketched here. The evening doesn’t evade issues such as his drug problem or his famous performances in jails. Together, the ensemble present numbers such as, “Cry, Cry, Cry”, “A Boy Named Sue”, “I Walk The Line” – some 30 Cash-Hits in all – with energy, but also with sensitivity. At the premiere the continued applause was rewarded with more than one encore.
Ring of Fire
Since 5 November, we have the chance to engage with the spirit of the USA’s most successful artist on the stage of Vienna’s English Theatre. This musical, by Richard Maltby Jr. und William Meade is, however, much more than just a biography of Johnny Cash; the piece gathers, rather, the threads of the general themes which Cash treats in his music; it is about his music as a whole, about his legacy to posterity. In the person of Johnny Cash, we are shown what human life, what humaneness itself really are. Far from merely offering us portraits of the characters from Cash’s life, the actors switch from reality to the abstract as they introduce us to the themes that form the substance of the songs. (…)
David M. Lutken and Sam Sherwood share the role of Johnny Cash, the one the elder, the other the younger man. Lutken’s voice is tailor-made for Cash’s songs and stretches to the very deepest tonal zones; despite the dark phases in his life, his elder Cash manages to cast a smiling look back upon his life, observing and commenting on his younger self. Whilst the elder Cash is notable for his dry humour, Sherwood lends the younger version a juvenile, mischievous quality and his easy, sympathetic manner is totally convincing.
Cash’s second wife, June Carter, is also portrayed by two actors, Helen Jean Russell (as the elder June) and Megan Loomis (as the younger June). Russell brings across perfectly the affection and closeness of the relationship between Johnny and June. Loomis’ younger June has a jestful quality and many a laugh on her side. As Cash’s first wife, Louise Cash, however, Loomis enriches us with moments of true poignancy: the moment she gives expression to Louise’s loneliness, for example, whilst Johnny Cash abandons her for his musical career.
Both Michael Hicks and Morgan Morse blend harmoniously into the ensemble as they assume one role after another and furnish proof of their talent on many an instrument.
The entire cast switch seemingly effortlessly between their manifold roles; it is impressive to see how all six of them play several instruments: double-bass, violin, harmonica and, of course, the guitar, to name but a few. Just how perfectly the entire group is co-ordinated, becomes especially clear in the number, „I’ve been everywhere“; the actors alternate at an ever-faster pace, line by line, without ever stumbling.
Together, the set (David M. Lutken) and the lighting (David W Kidd) create a cosy, intimate atmosphere which gives full rein to the Country-Feeling. Maria Jurglani’s costumes also prove ideal; true to his reputation, the elder Johnny is dressed in black as is his younger counterpart later on. This reaches its high-point in „Man in Black“ in which the complete ensemble comes onstage in black, thus to emphasise the message.
With RING OF FIRE, director Sherry Lutken creates a musical which will satisfy more than just every fan of Johnny Cash and his music. If you have the chance, go and see the piece which runs until 22 December. As an additional treat, Vienna’s English Theatre and the cast celebrate a Hootenanny, a communal singing of his folk-songs, after the show every Saturday night. Free of charge, what’s more!