The Florida Studio Theater in Sarasota sings the life of Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash has built his career as a musical storyteller with songs that combine brutal honesty, humor, irony and heart.
You have any idea what made him so popular in the musical “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” the act of opening The Florida Studio Theater Summer Season. It features beautiful vocals by a strong and engaging five-member cast performing some of Cash’s hits and other songs that may only be familiar to his most devoted fans.
Discover Johnny Cash:The Florida Studio Theater enters a ‘Ring of Fire’
But “Ring of Fire” doesn’t provide the background and context for some of the major songs and moments in his life. Numbers may look good, even if they don’t elicit deep, passionate feelings. While I enjoyed a bluegrass- or gospel-tinged track from Cash’s early days with his struggling farm family, I wanted to know and feel more.
The Richard Maltby Jr. and William Meade-engineered musical had a short Broadway run in 2006 and was later revised by Maltby and Jason Edwards for tours and regional productions like the one in Sarasota. The musical debuted shortly after the Oscar-winning film’s debut “Walking the line,” which provided a much deeper look into Cash’s life, his family struggles, his battles with drugs, his time in prison, and how the music he wrote and performed gave him purpose.
He was also boosted by his second marriage to June Carter. She is presented here as a kind of sparkling musical saint, who preserved him from the darker aspects of his life. Dialogue, much of the narration spoken directly to the audience, often sounds more like song cues than conversation.
In “Ring of Fire”, Cash recalls seeing June at the Grand Ole Opry from a balcony seat and knowing he was going to marry her. The audience doesn’t really feel the chemistry.
Directed by Ben Hope, who has played and directed many previous productions, “Ring of Fire” is a kind of concert that traces the main lines of Cash’s life. For some, that may be enough as the roughly two dozen songs sound great coming from the cast, led by Scott Moreau, who has played Cash for about 15 years in various productions.
A little history :10 things to know about the Florida Studio Theater
A summer tradition:Sarasota Music Festival returns with a reunion of alumni and favorites
Cash was not the most charismatic of performers, and Moreau presents him as a somewhat austere, serious man (with a slight sense of humor) who knows how to express himself through music. Moreau can sing the richest bass notes (which are exciting for June) and let her voice soar higher.
The songs are taken from his life, so we see his origins as a “Country Boy”, singing and playing instruments with his poor but loving family in “Daddy Sang Bass” and worrying about floodwaters in “Five Feet High and Rising”.
Trains and river references run throughout the show, and there’s emotion in “The Far Side on the Banks of Jordan,” “Cry, Cry Cry,” and “Sunday Morning Come Down.”
Moreau is joined by Elizabeth Nestlerode in June, as well as Eric Scott Anthony, Katie Barton and Morgan Morse who play a variety of other characters, as well as several instruments.
There’s humor in “Egg Suckin’ Dog” and “A Boy Named Sue,” and playfulness in the finale of “I’ve Been Everywhere,” which was heard a lot recently in a series of commercials for the service. US postal.
The cast members make the songs fun and entertaining and help you hear them as if they were new. They move effortlessly between different characters and instruments without drawing attention to change as they wander around the Hope-designed two-level barn-like set.
I might have wanted to know more about the events leading up to particular songs, especially his time in prison, but the music gives the show a moving spirit.
‘Ring of Fire’
Created by Richard Maltby Jr., designed by William Meade, adapted by Maltby and Jason Edwards. Directed by Ben Hope. Revised June 3. Florida Studio Theater Gompertz Theater, 1265 First St., Sarasota. Extended until June 26. 941-366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org