Bigger than life, a black-and-white slide of Johnny Cash with his back to the audience opens Richard Maltby Jr.’s “Ring of Fire” at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury. Then, very dramatically, each of four musicians appears on stage and announces “I am Johnny Cash.” Everything is in place, we know that the complex “Man in Black” is going to be represented through multiple musicians. When you’ve got four solid musicians on stage singing Johnny Cash songs, and a most likeable country singing gal, you know there’s going to be some serious heat.
Wooden crates, pails, jugs, an old washboard, banjo, tambourine, fiddle, and suitcases decorate scenic designer Dan Husvar’s multi-leveled post-and-beam barn construction of the Seven Angles stage. Jack Boice, Austin Hohnke, Ashley Rose, Jeremy Sevelovitz, and Jeff Touhy fill the stage with Cash’s music. Through that music and especially the lyrics of the songs, the audience learns a lot of Cash’s life story. Whether reminiscing about days gone by in songs like “Country Boy” and “Daddy Sang Bass” or reflecting on love in “Straight A’s in Love” and “All Over Again,” the music tells Cash’s story. It’s a story with plenty of hardship as recalled in “Five Feet High and Rising” when the full company sings of the rising flood waters, and it’s a story with plenty of joy and sadness as heard in “If I Were a Carpenter,” “Walk the Line,” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Directed by Semina De Laurentis with John Sebastian DeNicola as music director, the cast performs well. Ashley Rose is a sweetheart singer. She doesn’t yodel, but she can sure sing a tune. Jack Boice is a big force and he’s so happy on stage that it’s impossible not to smile whenever he’s in the spotlight. Austin Hohnke has that “comes easy” mellow quality in his vocals, and Jeremy Sevelovitz stands the tallest in the spotlight, and that’s not just about his height. Jeff Tuohy, who personifies musicianship and plays anything and everything from harmonica and bass to guitar was not up to his usual outrageous self on opening night, but still made it impossible for the audience to not appreciate his multiple performance talents.
Everything is set up for a big “Ring of Fire,” but the revue itself lacks that igniting spark. There’s also a sense of waiting for the really “big” scene; the really “big” number. While the Cash fire flares up here and there, it never quite catches hold enough to create that anticipated “Ring of Fire.”
Matt Guminski’s lighting design works well as does Matthew Martin’s sound design. Juliana Cirillo’s costumes have enough sparkle when needed to turn on the glitz factor. Overall, this is a most entertaining production. It plays through Oct. 20. Box office: 203-757-4676
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]