Ring of Fire – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

For many, country music makes them happy and those fans raise their hands up high to signify Johnny Cash is one of their favorites on the music cavalcade of hits. If black is your signature dress code of choice, then you’ve won the trifecta and Ivoryton Playhouse is delivering the prize until Sunday, September 11.

Richard Maltby Jr. conceived his show “Ring of Fire” that he wrote with William Meade. Stuffed with songs, and anecdotes about this enigmatic man in black, you’ll hear treats like “I Walk the Line,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “I’ve Been Everywhere” and “If I Were a Carpenter” that you’ll want to sing along with as well as lesser known additions like “Jackson,” “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Straight A’s in Love” and “Hey, Porter.” You’ll learn that Cash wrote his first song when he was only eight, and later penned two autobiographies.

Tunes like “Five Feet High and Rising,” written by Cash about the flooding of his family’s farm (twice) and “Folsom Prison Blues” about the prison reform he advocated for and the free concerts he provided for inmates are just two more of his homespun melodies. Among the dozens of songs, a little bit of his life and times peeks through, a sense of the man and his music, his hard times and high times, his love for a girl named June Carter and his career on the stage.

These extremely talented seven performers-Brittany Brook, David M. Lutken (musical director),Morgan Morse, Leenya Rideout, Nygel D. Robinson, Sam Sherwood and Spiff Wiegand- give it their all to create a spectacular evening of entertainment, even if you don’t love Johnny Cash (perish the thought). Sherry Lutken directs and choreographs this love fest with spice where the musical instruments, from mandolin to bass to percussion, harmonica, washboard and chair, banjo, fiddle, and chord zither, electrify and excite.

The night I attended the show’s creator Richard Maltby Jr. was in attendance and I chanced to sit next to Kim, the daughter of Howie Stange, who proudly told me her dad was in the Country Music Hall of Fame. This American musician, singer and pianist could pick up any musical instrument and play it proficiently. In 1958, he recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” a record Elvis took to number one on the Billboard Charts two years later.

For tickets ($55 adults, $50 seniors, $25 students), call Ivoryton Playhouse, 3 Main Street, Ivoryton at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Please bring your ID and vaccination card. Masks are required if you are not vaccinated.

The Ivoryton Playhouse has two more evenings of Cabaret for you to enjoy: On Monday, August 22 at 7:30 p.m. Schuyler Beeman will do Broadway up proud and on Monday, August 29 at 7:30 p.m. return for “You and I” featuring Charlie Widner on vocals and guitar and Eric Trudel on piano, sliding from Billy Joel to The Beatles and from Schubert to Sondheim. Tickets are adults $35 and students $20.

Let this mighty versatile cast introduce you to the man and his music. Meet Mr. Johnny Cash in all his reincarnations and you’ll love them all. As a star of country music, Johnny Cash’s wattage continues to shine bright and also casts a burning light on musical genres from rockabilly to rock and roll, blues to folk to gospel. Labeled one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, he has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Come get reacquainted with this mysterious “Man in Black,” who was known for wearing dark apparel in honor of the poor, homeless and imprisoned, had a distinctive deep and resonant bass-baritone and a rebellious streak that marked his manner.

After the Sunday matinee, about 4:45 pm, bring yourself with or without an instrument for a free Hootenanny with the cast outdoors.