Infinity Theatre Company has launched their Annapolis summer season with the production of Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash by Richard Maltby, Jr. and William Meade. Though the cast play themselves while telling the story of Johnny Cash, June Carter, and the Cash family, Ring of Fire embodies a true and soulful tribute to the ‘Man in Black. ‘Co-Producing Artistic Directors Anna Roberts Ostroff and husband Alan Ostroff, have a knack for casting performers with the talent to capture the essence of a character and breathe life into them.
From the opening chords of Cash’s classic honkey-tonk beat to soothing songs about adversity, faith, and love, Ring Of Fire is rich in tone and harmonious in melodies using the iconic songbook of Johnny Cash to tell his life story.
Ben Hope (Ben) is charming as he leads the players into song that immediately have toes tapping as the legendary story begins. Hope’s deep tone sings of family struggles in “Five Feet And Rising” which tells of the floods that destroyed his family’s cotton fields. However, a year later they were blessed with an even flourishing crop. Hope shows another side of Cash, a candid side and how the music always gave him strength. “Straight A’s in Love” is a humorous representation of Johnny maturing into manhood. He loved the ladies but also at the age of 18 he met and fell hard for June Carter.
Katie Barton (Katie) emulates the late, great June Carter Cash with her sparkling eyes, dazzling smile, and a voice resonating pure passion. It is her love for the music, for the singing, and for “John” that makes Barton so compelling. While she is not billed as playing June Cash, there comes a moment where performers Barton and Hope leave off and there is a divine transition. Perhaps it’s the “twenty years later” and several dissolved marriages when Johnny finally proposes to June, during the duet of title song, “Ring of Fire.” Barton and Hope exude chemistry and are hauntingly accurate as they take on the couples’ other famous duets like “Jackson” and “I Walk the Line.” Cash definitely had a signature sound delivered by the entire cast with true enthusiasm and pride.
This show is a great journey about one of the greatest singer/songwriters in American history and how much influence Johnny Cash had on the country music industry. A combination of story-telling country music with a hint of gospel, Ring of Fire credits milestones that are now carved out in music history. One of the greatest hits is “A Boy Named Sue,” a catchy tune performed by Spiff Wiegand (Spiff), Silas Moores (Silas), and Hope. “Folsom Prison Blues” is another popular song that was generated by Cash after his time in prison, a few times over.
The hidden surprise in this is Lori Eure (Lori) who represents Mama Cash. Eure filled the auditorium with her exquisite voice blending together the song stylings of Martina McBride (contemporary country singer) and the edginess of pop icon Melissa Etheridge. She did justice to “Cry, Cry, Cry” along with the song “Get Rhythm.” All in all, Eure has a bright future ahead of her.
This cast is multi-talented in that they exchange instruments throughout the show with a level of fluidity that works like a dance. Instruments include the bass, guitar, fiddle as well as the harmonica, hand-held harp and washboard. Percussionist Chris Karabales quietly plays in the background but certainly adds to the authentic sound of Ring of Fire. Adding to the technical aspects of this production is Sound Designer Wes Shippe, who pulled off a rather realistic thunderstorm.
Scenic Designer Paul Tate dePoo III designed a unique set that is a comprised of dilapidated steel girders with pieces of news headlines connected in between. There are varying platforms that allow the cast to move from up stage to down stage and perform on the circular platforms with running lights. While it is rustic the contrast of the curvilinear lines gives it an outdoor concert feel. Complementing the set is the lighting designed by Jimmy Lawler. There are undefinable images cast on the set that contribute to the mood of the show.
The transitioning of the costumes from dime store frocks for the gals to evening gowns, Costume Designer Tristan Raines elevates the costumes to an elegant level. The gals are later costumed with full petticoat dresses in brilliant colors to formal attire made of lace, chiffon and rhinestones. As the show progresses the men go from shirts and slacks to matching country and western garb in dark blue with a matching checked shirt, cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Hope, though he wears dark pants, shirts and a jacket, he is never fully dressed in black. He was put together well – classy.
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is an honest tribute to the life and the music of Johnny Cash. It is an upbeat production, even when told of the down times in Cash’s life, the music is met with style and humor. The story basically boils down to family and faith and it is the music that carries them through by being able to tell the good, the bad, and the love of life.
Infinity Theatre Company’s Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is an entertaining production from the beginning to end with stellar performances to boot.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash plays through June 28, 2015 at Infinity Theatre Company performing at The Children’s Theatre of Annapolis Complex – 1661 Bay Head Road, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (877)-501-8499, or purchase them online.