Ring of Fire at Landmark Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House features about 20 Johnny Cash songs including I Walk The Line, A Boy Named Sue, and Folsom Prison Blues. This unique presentation is a tribute to musical giant as well as a recounting of the singer’s life. The concert venue is appropriate for a man who seems to have led so many lives.
Since no one person could ever really capture all of Johnny Cash in a single production, the show features five vocalists who accompany themselves, a great approach to the legendary, black-clad musician. Playing everything from guitar, banjo, bass and accordion to tell Cash’s life story through his highly autobiographical songs, the musicians present Cash as poor boy, determined singer and songwriter, prisoner, addict, and lover.
Jim Luurtsema, a musician himself, makes his directorial debut with the show. He has an intuitive sense for staging and blocking and all the quick costume changes emphasize his attention to detail and timing. Although he did a great job with synchronizing the action and music onstage with fabulous Johnny Cash slides and video, opening night had its fair share of ups and downs. The musicians didn’t always enter a song cleanly and a few times, one or two of them would forget the words. I’m sure they’ll have the words and entrances down pat by the next performance.
Lori Holm is the female vocalist, who provides a lot of color as Johnny’s mother and/or wife or any female in the show. She also adlibbed when a connection for an electric instrument went haywire and the amplified sound had the audience jumping up in their seats. “We’ve got thunder backstage,” she quipped with a laugh reassuring the audience that all was well. Some of her vocals were stronger than others. All five members of the cast sing Johnny’s songs.
The men’s voices are strong even though they don’t always sing confidently. What they are sure of is their instruments. Michael Conroy is the bass player, but he could play just about any instrument and demonstrates this as he drums on a wooden stool with a couple of drum sticks. His smile is as warm as his voice.
Ed Rosenblatt also has a grand time taking turns with electric guitar and banjo and sings with passion. Robert Saunders, a darn good guitarist who played in a local rock band, alternates frequently with Payton Turpin in the spotlight. Turpin has a voice most similar to Johnny Cash and never fails to capture the essence of the songs he sings. By design none of the performers imitate the famous singer. This is what makes the show so unique. Even though they don’t pretend to be Johnny, the songs are so powerfully Cash and the slides in the background not only add interest and dimension, but remind us of the man who continually “walked the line” and sang all along the way.
One of the most memorable scenes in the revue is when Turpin as Cash, decked out in a long jacket and pants, explains why he [Cash] always wears black. It’s a most fitting social statement, but I won’t ruin it for you. You’ll have to hear it for yourself.
Barbara Piscopo and her needle crew created the costumes and Tori Campbell and Alex Dunn designed lights. Joseph McCann designed the sound and Kate Luurtsema is credited with video and photography. The production plays through Sept. 18. Box office:860-283-8558
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]