A great many Chicago area theater audiences have seen the long running “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Apollo and have walked away with fond memories of the four featured men in the story. Of course, one of these men, Johnny Cash, would be the hero of the premiere now onstage at Indiana’s Theatre At The Center in Munster ( just a hop skip and a jump from the “loop”-“Ring Of Fire”. This is a re-tooling of a production that did not have the right “stuff” for Broadway in its original version.
Conceived by William Meade and created by Richard Maltby,Jr., “Ring Of Fire” tells the Johnny Cash story in a simple way, through the music of his “songbook” using 35 plus of his songs that will guide the audience through his early days and his meeting of June carter on a very intimate set ( Angie Miller’s set is bigger than life). The show has a great number of songs and is done in two acts, covering two hours, but to be honest, if the bladder can take it, a 90 minute show with no break might even be more intimate. somewhere along the line, this show might grow “legs” as such an evening out. The song list is huge with many that we know real well “I’ve Been Everywhere”, “I Walk The Line”, “man In Black”, of course “A Boy Named Sue” and many others.
Cash is known , of course as “Country Western”, but his is unique in that he blended Church/Gospel, rock, Blues and Country into a specific sound that became Johnny Cash, and this simple, pleasant story shows us the man and his music in a very easy to follow way. Directed by Brian Russell with musical direction by Malcolm Ruhl and William Underwood,the cast is made up of some wonderful talents they can sing, act and play musical instruments and all do this solidly bringing this story to life. The interesting part of the show is that there are two men playing Johnny Cash. Yes, two! The amazing Kent M. Lewis playing what might be called THE Johnny Cash, who also serves as the story teller/narrator and Michael Monroe Goodman as the Younger version. While both have the feel and the sound of Cash, Lewis truly over powers us with his voice and vocal range.
As we watch the story being told, Lewis tells us the tale of growing up, going to Sun Records , meeting June carter etc and moves in and out as cash so that Goodman can move in and illustrate the portion of story being told. This is a clever way to tell the story and with the musicians on the stage, Ruhl and Underwood along with Greg Hirte ( Chicago’s premiere Fiddler who also shows us his other talents in this show) and Billy Shaffer ( who comes from “Million Dollar Quartet as a drummer) and the wonderful Corey Goodrich playing June Carter Cash ( she also plays Johnny’s mother in the early part of the story and is quite the musician herself) this is a show that will have you wanting more!
While others may think this show is not one for sophisticated theater audiences, I will say that this show is for those who love the music of the book of Johnny Cash. If you love country or his rock and roll music, you will find this a solid entertainment piece that is fitting for the entire family. The only problem with the production is that the set and stage area is truly a bit large for an intimate piece, making the sight lines a bit strained for the people on the sides, but the sound is great (Barry G. Funderberg), lighting (Shelly Strasser-Holland) great, and with Brenda Winstead’s costumes and Jessie Howe’s props along with the wigs (Kevin Barthel) this is two hours of magic in Indiana.
“Ring Of Fire” will continue at Theatre at The Center located at 1040 Ridge Road ( route 6) in Munster ( just over the state line and about 25 minutes from the loop) through March 30th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
There are also some special Thursday night and Saturday afternoon performances which you will find on their website www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com
Tickets range from $40-$44 which is a bargain for theater of this quality. You can order yours by visiting the website or by phone at 800-511-1552.
Lots of free parking on the grounds, plenty of dining in the area ( all at very affordable prices) and you can buy gas and other stuff at Indiana prices along the way.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Ring Of Fire”