"Ring of Fire" The Music of the Legendary Johnny Cash, now playing at the Broadway Palm is not a musical biography of Johnny Cash's life such as in the Jersey Boys. it’s not a show with a fictional story interwoven around famous songs, as in Mamma Mia, and it’s not a collection of Johnny Cash's greatest hits either. It’s more of a musical collage loosely representing accounts of his life portrayed through an almost continuous flow of songs associated with the artist, one that doesn’t tell of events in a traditional biographical sense, but as a reflection of the heart and soul of a performer considered to be among the most influential musicians of the past century. Bringing each spectator on a trip down memory lane, while being drawn in by an engaging cast who take you through 30 stellar songs (not all original Cash tunes, but all recorded by him) that are the backbone, heart and soul of the show.
The cast of Danielle Barnes, Alex Canty, Tim Capal, Dani Cohen, Andrea De Vriendt, Tim Drake, Justin Droegemueller, Allison Fund, Alexander Kosmowski, Gary Leone, Jonah M. Martin, Matt McCllure and Emily Woods (in no particular order, but as listed in program) perform and interact with each other seamlessly. In fact, one of the most impressive aspects of this performance is their versatility, they not only have fabulous voices for singing and acting but at the same time play an amazing variety of instruments, from upright bass, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, fiddle and guitars, to harmonicas, spoons and a washboard too.
This cast makes it look easy, moving and interacting with one another effectively all the while singing and playing instruments. The female vocals were outstanding and even though never directly impersonating Johnny Cash, the male cast members made sure the spirit of the man in black was always in attendance.
The opening of the second half is a treat as Justin slaps that Upright Bass into a crowd-pleasing, musical frenzy, teasing us as he appears to slowly wind down, only to return and deliver a little more.
The cast is at their finest doing five-part harmonies, (or was it six), in songs such as “Daddy Sang Bass,” and at other times getting the audience going in favorites as "Jackson", "Ring of Fire" and "Cocaine Blues." At those times, the whole theater is moving with the audience dancing in their seats, toe-tapping or singing along. And while adorable in her lighter moments with her fiddle and her great smile, Emily Woods particularly shines when she displays her fiddling skills in "Orange Blossom Special." With a little encouragement from the cast, the crowd was soon challenging her with "faster, faster" and she was certainly up to the task.
One of the most telling songs for me was when the whole cast joined in on "I've been everywhere " which is a great representation of Cash's love of travel and performing live around the country .
Despite the serious elements of Cash’s life presented in many of these song, most of the musical elements are upbeat and joyful, under direction from Curt Wollan and presented with fun choreography from Candice Lively.
In closing, you will not come away from this show with a huge knowledge of Johnny Cash’s life. His troubled path, his relationships, and his addictions are never explored in the way the biographical film, "Walk the Line," was able to present them. Instead, you’re left with a sense of celebration; an uplift that comes when music reaches out and succeeds in pulling you in, something every performer desires when audiences hear their work. With this "Ring of Fire" cast it happens......in abundance; you don’t simply enjoy the songs, you leave the theatre finding yourself searching Youtube to hear them again with a desire to learn more.