Thursday, April 6, 2017

reviews - RING OF FIRE - Arizona Theatre Company

John Marshall, Brian Mathis, Brantley Kearns, Jeff Lisenby, and Brent Moyer
photo by Tim Fuller

highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)


Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 16.

"Though the musical Ring of Fire, the music of Johnny Cash,...an account of a life reflected through an almost continuous flow of songs associated with the artist, one that doesn’t necessarily tell of events in a traditional biographical sense, but a reflection of the heart and soul of a performer considered to be among the most influential musicians of the past century.......the principals sing in character, elevating the songs and the meanings of the lyrics...during the section reflecting early days of the family on the farm during a thunderous storm, courtesy of Kenton Yeager’s lighting and Brian Jerome Patterson’s sound, the cast sing Five Feet High and Rising as they look off with mounting concern into the distance. You can practically see the flood pouring in as the lighting changes, the thunder cracks, and the cast climb steps in order to keep their feet out of the water....The four leads, who double as not only Cash family members but as Cash and Carter at various stages of their lives, are outstanding in voice, presence and energy. ..most of the musical elements are upbeat and joyful, often presented with fun choreography from Denise Patton, supported by Jeff Lisenby’s arrangements. ...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. ...you don’t simply enjoy the songs, you leave the theatre wanting to hear them again, coupled with the desire to learn more." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"As far as jukebox musicals.. go, there have been several that were big hits...and others that were big misses...Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash falls somewhere in between. After a short run on Broadway the creators trimmed the show to make it focus less on the biography of Cash and become almost solely a tribute to his music. Arizona Theatre Company's production features exceptional performers, most of whom have appeared in other productions of this musical, and while the show itself shortchanges some of Cash's history, it still results in a highly entertaining tribute to the man in black. Ring of Fire features a fairly straightforward timeline to lay out an abbreviated version of Cash's life. ...Organized in various sections, creator Richard Maltby Jr. includes over 30 tunes written by or associated with Cash and his family to portray the hardships and history of this famous man. ..However, the minimal amount of narration only gives us a few highlights of his career and slightly shortchanges the influence of his wife June Carter Cash on both his music and the changes he made in his life to become a better man....The show runs a little over two hours so the inclusion of a few more statements about Cash's life and the importance of June and other events would greatly help to turn it into a more fitting tribute to this legendary man and performer. The cast is composed of four singers and an onstage band that play, sing, and participate in the action. The four main singers include two men and two women who evoke older and younger versions of Johnny and June, along with the older couple also portraying Johnny's parents in the early part of the show. ...The fact that all four have excellent vocal skills, with earthy tones and lush harmonies that deliver rich versions of the almost three dozen country and folk tunes, helps immensely....Director Randal Myler does a nice job of keeping the pace moving along while allowing the serious, introspective moments and songs to have resonance. He wisely stages the majority of the performances toward the front of the stage, which helps provide a closeness and intimacy to the performers and the lyrics. ...Cash had a fascinating life and the hardships he faced, including the death of his brother when Johnny was a young boy, his awareness of the pain and suffering of the downtrodden, and his own addictions, clearly formed and were a constant presence in his life, music, and his overall somber tone and personality. While I wish there were a few more facts presented in the show to give us more details of Cash's life, especially a little more about his addictions, June, and her passing, the excellent performers and great songs make Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash at Arizona Theatre Company a memorable experience." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"If it's a Johnny Cash extravaganza, it's safe to bank on some smokin' audience appeal. Arizona Theatre Company's Ring of Fire at Herberger Theater in that regard did not disappoint.... not exactly a revue or jukebox format, and it definitely does not offer a plot or even a biographical chronology. What it does offer is down home homage to a personality that shaped a unique, unequaled brand of country music....works as a nostalgic tribute to the life and music of the iconic Man in Black....Numbers like "I Walk the Line" and "Jackson" stirred up or sparked more sweet, intangible sentiment  than they did concrete images of Cash. Some narration and a few rarely seen Cash family photos projected onto a large screen that was reminiscent of drive-in movie theaters or bygone billboards also enriched... recalled playful tunes and surly spirits that Cash and wife June Carter branded. ...Brian Mathes as an older Johnny Cash delivered his strongest performance of the evening in the second act during "Man in Black."  Likewise, his duet with Allison Briner-Dardenne, "Far Side Banks of Jordan," coaxed a few tears....As much appreciation as the talented cast called up, they made missing the real Johnny Cash's singular vocal style and unforgettable care-worn compassion unavoidable.  The show was a wonderful, well-presented tribute that warms as much as it burns." -- Jennifer Haaland, PHX Stages (click here to read the complete review)

"...“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,”...The book is so thin on biographical detail — omitting an entire marriage, for example — that it threatens to erase Johnny Cash from his own musical....despite the imposing presence of Brian Mathis in a terrific cast of four singing actors. ...he vividly evokes the image of Cash as country music’s elder statesman. ..Add a skilled crew of musicians who occasionally add some hammy acting to the proceedings, and “Ring of Fire” delivers a rich musical experience that recalls the glory days of the Grand Ole Opry, including plenty of unabashed country kitsch ...Unfortunately, the camp factor infects portions of the show where it doesn’t belong..." Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"...RING OF FIRE: THE MUSIC OF JOHNNY CASH stands on its merits principally as a highly entertaining and upbeat tribute to the "man in black."...RING OF FIRE only hints and winks at the drama and turbulence of Cash's life. It does not stray very far into those deep fields and thus settles for being more a jukebox musical than an illuminating play....RING OF FIRE is a wild and burning performance concert with a first-class cast that does its best when it is kicking up its heels and delivering every song with gusto. Michael Monroe Goodman and Brian Mathis play the younger and older Cash with the requisite poise and tone that befits their character's stage of life. Trenna Barnes and Allison Briner-Dardenne deliver sterling performances as the spirited and savvy women in Cash's life.... " Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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