The Chicago Files

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Ring of Fire Pic 1 July 2015

Recently I had the privilege of attending a performance of, “Ring of Fire”, which is currently playing at the Mercury Theater Chicago.  This tribute to Johnny Cash takes the audience on a virtual ‘musical train ride’ through Cash’s fascinating life (1932-2003).

The opening scene is metaphorically significant, as we find ourselves at, “Grace Station”, certainly depicting Cash’s devout Christian faith and the recurring themes in his life about trains, journey, hardship, and endurance.  Adorning the back wall of the station we see various instruments:  guitars, mandolins, while an upright bass, drums, and other instruments take center stage, all waiting to become part of Johnny Cash’s story.  Here’s a photo of the scene prior to the start of the performance:

Ring of Fire July 2015 1

You can see from the above photo there is a set of train-tracks to the left; I found this to be a perfect inclusion to the stage set, as it kept me thinking about Cash’s long and winding life; sometimes smooth, at other times bumpy and rough.

Grace Station reminded me of a community gathering spot, where tall tales are told, accompanied by a musical blending of each person’s ‘sound’, creating a synergistic environment.   That is exactly what happened on stage as the ‘community’ provided phenomenal renditions of 30 powerful Johnny Cash songs.  Interwoven into his life’s journey, there was a sense of getting to know Johnny Cash through the lyrics and melody of his music.  Seven extremely talented musicians allow us to accompany them on Cash’s meaningful sojourn starting with his humble, early life on the family cotton farm in Arkansas, which included renditions of, “Country Boy”, “Five Feet High”, and, “Daddy Sang Bass”.  Accompaniment by Malcolm Ruhl, Austin Cook, Greg Hirte, and Billy Shaffer provided the audience with fervor as each note draws you into the heart-felt world of Johnny Cash.

There is a brilliant interplay between the depiction of Johnny Cash in his younger years (played by the extremely talented Michael Monroe Goodman) and Cash in his older years (an amazing performance by Kent Lewis).  As the audience is taken through Cash’s journey, Lewis (as the older Cash) provides a segue through dialogue of some of the deep and thought-provoking trials and tribulations he endured as a young man.  This is seamlessly followed by a Cash song performed by Goodman (as the younger Cash).

As the wandering of the decades of Cash’s life continues, Kent Lewis also gives the audience a narrative of experiences and challenges Johnny faced later in his life, followed by a song illustrating the time period.

Adding extra layers to the performance is the outstanding Cory Goodrich who plays Cash’s wife, June Carter-Cash.

Ring of Fire Pic 2 July 2015

The, “Grand Ole Opry” in Memphis is not only where June and Johnny met, but performed together on many occasions.  Goodrich gave a tremendously energetic and electric performance of Cash’s song, “I’ve Been Everywhere”.  If you’ve never heard this song, it has an exceptionally quick beat which Goodrich flawlessly executes without, well, missing a ‘beat’!

Johnny Cash always wore black clothing.  I hadn’t given this much thought until I heard Lewis with his soulful voice sing, “Man In Black”.  Here are a few lines to give you an idea as to why Cash wore black:

 “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.”

Ring of Fire Pic 3 July 2015

Other Cash hits performed to perfection include:  “Ring of Fire”, Folsom Prison Blues”, “If I Were a Carpenter”, and “I Walk the Line”.

This performance is directed by Brian Russell and the musical director (and performer) is Malcolm Ruhl. I utterly loved every single minute of the entire musical.  Having never been a Johnny Cash fan, I honestly had no idea what was in store.  However, I realized quite quickly that I was hooked.  The entire cast is in sync; not only is the music incredible, but the feelings and emotions exuded by the performers allow the audience to truly gain a new and interesting perspective into the life and experiences of Johnny Cash.  I do not think this is something that can be gained by anything less than the collective charisma and standout performances of every single person on the stage.  THAT is how much I loved this musical! Whether you are a Johnny Cash fan or not, this is by far one of the best musicals I have seen in a long time.

If you would like to hear/see what I am talking about, “Ring of Fire” is playing at the Mercury Theater Chicago until  August 30th:  http://mercurytheaterchicago.com/

In fact, I want to see it again!! Great job, Mercury Theater Chicago!! You never disappoint!

Special thanks to Allison Weber for the photos included in this post (I took the, “Grace Station” photo which you probably noticed, as the quality isn’t nearly as good as the Mercury’s photos)!

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24 thoughts on “Ladies & Gentlemen: Ring of Fire, Starring Johnny Cash!

  1. Erika Kind says:

    Wow, very cool! I love musicals. But when it is about a legend it is really special. I saw “We will rock you” and it was very touching at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      It was amazing, Erika! Yes, I agree with you. Ah, that must have been awesome! Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Erika Kind says:

        I am sure you have lots of opportunities in Chicago. That must be great.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. seaangel4444 says:

        We really do; it is a fantastic theater city!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Erika Kind says:

        Wonderful, Cher! So happy for you 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      4. seaangel4444 says:

        Thank you, Erika! Cher xo

        Like

  2. Don says:

    I can just imagine what a wonderful show it must be. Such an amazing story, Cher. I remember seeing the movie about his life. Think it was called “I Walk the Line” – not sure. The first time I visited the US a friend took me to “The Grand Ole Opry.” Wonderful evening. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      It really is an incredible show, Don! Ah, you went to “The Grand Ole Opry”! I have never been there! It must have been wonderful. There were times during the performance that I had tears in my eyes. I could literally ‘feel’ the sorrowful and difficult times Johnny Cash endured. He lost his brother in a farming accident when he was a child. Not to mention a slew of other horrible things. And yet, he carried on, and became such an amazing inspiration. Having only been slightly familiar with his life and music before seeing, “Ring of Fire”, I am now finding myself reading a lot more about him. Yes, Don, I believe it was called, “I Walk the Line” I must rent it now!! Cher xo

      Like

      1. Don says:

        The movie certainly portrayed a life that was permeated by hardship and struggle. Also it became clear that he was not an easy person. Very complex. Seems to me that June was the anchor in his life.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. seaangel4444 says:

        Oh yes, I have heard also that he wasn’t an easy person. I think June really was the anchor in his life, Don. In fact, Johnny passed on only 4 months after June. They were most certainly connected souls. I absolutely must rent that movie! I’m so glad you mentioned it, Don; thank you!! Cher xo

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This sounds so wonderful! I love Johnny Cash. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Ah, thanks! Oh yes, it was amazing! I think I am now a fan of his music, bless him! Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It sounds great – I wonder if it’ll come to London!

    Like

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Hi Veronica! I think that would be wonderful if they would! I’m going to write to the theater and see if I can find out anything. Shall let you know! Cher xo

      Like

  5. He was always very generous with the young musicians in the 1960s and did what he could to influence the record company executives to give them a chance. He invited some of them to his TV show to play their music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Oh did he, Bruce? I had no idea. Thank you so much for sharing this excellent information. He really did care about helping others. Cher xo

      Like

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Ah, thank you so much, dear Billy Ray!! Cher xo

      Like

  6. I’d never thought about Johnny Cash, but I realised that i knew “If i were a carpenter.” So I went and listened to it ag-fter 40/ years. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      You know Hilary, I must admit that I did not know that song was a Johnny Cash number until I saw the performance. Ah, glad you listened to it again! Such a great song! Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I adore Johnny Cash. Grew up listening to all his albums. I’m a total sucker for “A Boy Named Sue.”
    Looks like a fantastic show!

    Like

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Oh did you? I certainly have a better appreciation for Johnny Cash and his music now that I have seen this incredible show! Yes, “A Boy Named Sue” was written by Shel Silverstein (from Chicago of all places!). Kent Lewis absolutely nailed this song in the show! Great lyrics! Cher xo

      Like

  8. Wow! Wish I could see it. If they ever come to Australia I’d love to take my parents to see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seaangel4444 says:

      Oh I know you would love it (and I’m sure your parents would too). I’ll be interviewing Michael Monroe Goodman for an upcoming post soon. Michael plays the “younger” Johnny Cash and was in a brilliant show called, “Million Dollar Quartet” Cher xo

      Liked by 1 person

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