From Jan. 23th – Feb. 14th, Federal Way resident theatre company CenterStage! tells a story of one of the most honest musical figures in history, Johnny Cash, in Ring of Fire: The Musical Story of Johnny Cash.
Assistant Director Alan Bryce created an abbreviated version of Richard Maltby Jr. and Bill Meade’s 2005 Broadway musical Ring of Fire. While the original Broadway production had 16 cast members and musicians, this presentation features six of Seattle’s premier musical theatre artists. Bryce’s main goal with this production was to entertain and create some form of accuracy to Cash’s real life.
Instead of attempting to mimic the character of country singer/songwriter/guitarist Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire has two primal performers, Cayman Ilika and Jared Michael Brown. According to Bryce, the main performers are supposed to interpret Cash’s sound, telling a general story of redemption and family. The other cast members include Jack Death, Tom Stewart, Tomerlin, and Zack Summers.
This production relies strictly on Cash’s song book to tell the story of a rock and roll American legend. Ring of Fire has 38 musical numbers that create a narrative about the internal and external struggles that Cash faced throughout his life. This includes a love story between Cash and his second wife, June.
Maltby commented in local news publication, The Federal Way Mirror, “It’s almost a mythic American tale—of growing up in simple, dirt-poor surroundings in the heartland of America, leaving home, traveling on wings of music, finding love, misadventure, success, faith, redemption, and the love of a good woman—and eventually returning home. It’s about the journey of a man in search of his own soul. That seemed to be a worthy story to put on stage and the best part is we could tell it entirely through songs.”
Since Ring of Fire is a musical with very little dialogue, it does not attempt to tell a detailed and specific story about Cash but instead allow the lyrics to provide a basic plot about home, family, love, poverty, and all of the struggles, rewards, and redemption that come from them.
Cash was writing music all the way until he died of diabetes in 2003. He has been known for communicating heartbreak through a variety of genres including gospel, rockabilly, folk, blues, and country; he even did a gut-wrenching cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” at the end of his life. Despite the chronological timeline of Cash’s music that is presented in the production, most of the songs in this production will come from his iconic rockabilly hits like the self-reflective “I Walk the Line,” the hilarious “A Boy Named Sue,” and the outlaw-country ‘50s classic “Folsom Prison Blues.”
What makes Cash special is his ability to tell simple, yet rough stories. In order to truly appreciate Ring of Fire, one must understand the significance that he brings to the history of American 20th century music as a man of blunt honesty. Although fans associate him with country music, he made a big impact on the rockabilly era. Cash was one of the great rock and roll pioneers of the 1940s through ‘50s, recording with famous musicians like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
According to Rolling Stone Magazine, his simplistic spoken story-songs discuss the lives of coal miners, sharecroppers, Native Americans, prisoners, cowboys, renegades, and poor families. In his lifetime of drugs, divorce, family struggles, and rehab, he wrote over 400 songs.
One of the biggest reasons why Cash’s music has stood the test of time is because it is relatable. Bryce spoke with me about Johnny Cash. He comments that “he came from a harmful background and it’s for various reasons. A lot of people relate to that. You know the classic rags to riches story but along the way, it was confronting you with the various demons that he confronted from. You know drug abuse to troubles with the law and all that kind of stuff.”
Why should you come? How about discovering the roots of country and rock and roll music, while watching a man’s inspiration come to life on the stage. Bryce mentions that he was not a huge Cash fan at first, but this musical made him realize his monumental cultural significance to American music. “This guy is great. I mean the insides into American life he provided through his music was something really special so I would hope we could introduce a lot of new people to his work because it is certainly pretty fabulous,” Bryce comments.
If you want a traditional biography of Cash, I would suggest watching the 2005 film I Walk the Line starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as Jane. This film can provide background knowledge of the musician before you see the musical.
Ticket prices are $35 for adults and $25 for youth
For information on show times, visit: centerstagetheatre.com