southtownstar
CRACKLING 
Weather Updates

‘Ring of Fire’ lacks soul of Johnny Cash’s life

 
ZmZHR0azov8E4pfrCoeLgUUC6lEK4egC

 

Cory Goodrich Michael Monroe Goodman star 'Ring Fire.'  |  MICHAEL BROSILOW PHOTO

Cory Goodrich and Michael Monroe Goodman star in "Ring of Fire." | MICHAEL BROSILOW PHOTO

storyidforme: 63002595
tmspicid: 22565914
fileheaderid: 10861225

‘RING OF FIRE’

Somewhat recommended

When: Through March 30

Where: Theatre at the Center,
1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind.

Tickets: $40-$44

Information: (800) 511-1552;
TheatreAtTheCenter.com

Run time: 2 hours, one intermission

Maps

Updated: April 8, 2014 6:13AM



Go into “Ring of Fire” at Theatre at the Center expecting a glimpse into the genius and torment that defined Johnny Cash, and you’re apt to walk away disappointed.

The storytelling is all but absent as the show, created by Richard Maltby and conceived by William Meade, makes its way through more than 30 numbers from the Man in Black’s extensive songbook. Even for a revue — a genre in which narrative and character development generally take a distant back seat to a jukebox worth of songs — “Ring of Fire” is thin soup.

Directed by Brian Russell, with music direction by Malcolm Ruhl, this is a show that sounds terrific but falters whenever the music stops and the attempts at dialogue begin.

A big part of the problem is Maltby and Meade barely offer a CliffsNotes version of Cash’s life. Bullet points are delivered in somber-bordering-on-somnambulant pronouncements that sound like lines from a middle-school pageant.

Even though there’s not enough material to flesh out one Johnny Cash, Maltby and Meade inexplicably give us two.

Young Johnny (Michael Monroe Goodman as the up-and-coming Cash) and older Johnny (Kent M. Lewis as the iconic country singer looking back on his life and career) both possess the rich, raw baritone needed to re-create Cash’s signature sound. But by having two Johnnys (who actually don’t look that different in age), the character of Cash becomes diluted. And having them trade off verses with other band members who are instrumentalists first and vocalists second? That’s not a good idea.

Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash (Cory Goodrich), is similarly underwritten and rather lacking in chemistry with either Johnny. While Goodrich has a gorgeous soprano, it’s more suited to musical theater and operetta than it is to the emotive twanging drawl of Cash’s country. She brings down the house with “I’ve Been Everywhere,” but the song is a feat of (mightily impressive) technique rather than an exploration of the heart.

All that said, “Ring of Fire” is a perfectly pleasant way to spend a few hours, and when the band gets cooking, they set all burners on high. The variety of music packed into the show is, indeed, impressive, ranging from spirituals to backwoods novelty numbers (“Dirty Old Egg Suckin’ Dog” is a hoot) to Cash’s indelible hits (Lewis absolutely nails “A Boy Named Sue”). Goodrich, Goodman and Lewis often play their own instruments as well as sing.

As for that band, it’s a marvel: Greg Hirte unleashes a blaze of sound and fury on the fiddle, Ruhl keeps an infectious beat on upright bass, Bill Underwood makes the keyboard sing and Billy Shaffer keeps a mean beat on percussion.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.