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Created by Richard Maltby, Jr.
Conceived by William Meade
Orchestrations by Steven Bishop and Jeff Lisenby

Casa Manana

Director - Jason Edwards
Asst. Director/Choreographer - Jane Lanier
Musical Director - Jeff Lisenby
Sound Design - Duane McKee
Lighting Design - Samuel Rushen
Costume Design - Kevin Copenhaver
Stage Manager - Hans Meyer

CAST (as listed in program)
Principals - Trenna Barnes, Troy Burgess, Jason Edwards, Jeri Sager
Keyboards/Accordion - Jeff Lisenby
Fiddle - Brantley Kearns
Upright Bass - John Marshall
Electric & Acoustic Guitars/Trumpet - Brent Moyer
Drums - Walter Hartman
Guitar/Mandolin/Harmonica/Dobro - John Foley

Reviewed Performance: 6/2/2012

Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Johnny Cash, known as the "Man in Black" because of his tendency to wear black, entertained audiences through more than five decades as a singer and songwriter. His popularity across multiple musical disciplines earned him the distinction of being inducted into three halls of fame - the Gospel Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash tells just a little about this music icon's life through his music. From the moment the first note is heard until the last song was over, my toes were tapping. The show elicited happy and nostalgic emotions and memories, occasionally my eyes stung with tears, and I sometimes found myself leaning forward, sitting on the edge of my seat as if doing so would allow me to soak up more of the show.

The production itself, though not perfect, was nearly as close to perfect as a show can be. Occasionally, the mics on the female principals were a little loud, sometimes a mic was slow to be turned on, and Trenna Barnes, portraying a young June Carter, was fighting with a cough, but there were no errors in the show that distracted from its glory.

The first thing I noticed as I walked into Casa Manana's dome was the simplistic, multipurpose set. A barn wall served as both backdrop and a screen - photographs were sometimes projected on the wall to supplement and enhance the music. To the right was a small cabin with a porch. The porch served as a small stage but also as a bandstand - several of the musicians were often seen sitting on the porch while they played. There was light smoke coming from the right which highlighted a lighting effect to reveal the sun's rays shining through the trees. A sense of anticipation began as soon as I sat down and began looking at the set, and I was not disappointed. When the center stage was to become the Grand Ole Opry, I wondered how they would convince me to really think I was there. A simple lighting change, and Lighting Designer Samuel Rushen had succeeded in making me forget about Arkansas.

Costume Designer Kevin Copenhaver did an extraordinary job. The dresses worn by the ladies were spot on. Whether they were poor and hard at work or all spiffed up for a dance or a show, even the accessories were planned well. The men's costumes did not disappoint, either. In scenes with the entire ensemble actively on stage, every single performer had a well-designed costume.

The show started with a review of Johnny's early life, but the story itself began with a line delivered by Troy Burgess, who portrayed young Cash, "Before there was Memphis, there was Arkansas". From that moment on, the audience was taken on a journey through Cash's life. Sometimes joyous, sometimes tragic, often a struggle, we were able to get to know Cash in a way we may never have otherwise. Through it all, the songs of the Man in Black gave evidence that his songwriting revolved around personal experiences. The fact that the whole story could be told through song was testament to his willingness throughout his career to share a part of himself through the stories he told. As the story progressed, I found myself reminiscing about my own childhood - evening gospel revivals, family sing-a-longs, and just good ole' music. During the gospel songs, I could even hear members of the audience joining in, having been moved by their own recollections.

The cast was wonderful. Director Jason Edwards brought together a cast who worked well together, often exuding an air of family as they joined together to sing beautiful harmonies and deliver toe-tapping entertainment. Every musician on the stage was called upon to sing, act, and dance in the show in addition to playing their respective instruments and they did so with gusto. John Marshall, on upright bass, brought the audience back from intermission with his fantastic, almost supernatural ability to slap the strings and make incredible music. Brantley Kearns, fiddle player, was adorable in his many appearances, including an entertaining solo in "Delia's Gone".

Every voice was strong. Troy Burgess, had a voice that sounded nearly the same as Cash. Jason Edwards, representing older Cash, sounded a little less like Cash but had a silky smooth voice that was easy to listen to, whether he was singing or talking. Both actors had the singer's mannerisms, right down to the unique way Cash held his guitar. The ladies, Trenna Barnes and Jeri Sager, both portraying June Carter Cash, were equally talented.

Whether you are a fan of the music of Johnny Cash, I believe you will find something to like about this show. The bass notes that are so familiar in all of Cash's songs, and the great voices along with a meaningful story are bound to keep your toes a-tappin', your hand a-slappin', and your face a-smilin'!

RING OF FIRE: The Music of Johnny Cash (World Tour)
Casa Manana
3101 W. Lancaster Ave.
Fort Worth, Texas 76107

Limited run through June 10th
Shows are Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday, June 10th at 2:00 pm.
Single tickets are $37.00-$62.00 plus fees and can be purchased by going to Call the Casa Manana box office at 817-332-2272 (M-F 10 am-4 pm) for more information.