RING OF FIRE: THE MUSIC OF JOHNNY CASHBy Richard Maltby, JR
Director – BJ Cleveland
Musical Director – Sonny Franks
Set Design - Bradley Gray
Costume Design – Amanda J. Capshaw
Stage Manager – Caron Gitelman Grant
Lighting Design – LeAnn Burns
Sound Design -Scott Guenther
Eddie – Spencer Baker
Mark – Ian Ferguson
David – Sonny Franks
Trenna – Katrina Kratzer
Jason – Brian Mathis
Reviewed Performance: 10/10/2016
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The cast and crew do a wonderful job to bring Johnny Cash’s music to life once more. A simple set, which consists of a wood laminate floor with a raked area that thrusts out and returns to position during the show and a large, wooden, false proscenium revealing a blank backdrop, is expertly used to convey the homey atmosphere of the first act and the concert quality of the second act. The only unnecessary piece was a tree branch that floated on and off in a jerky motion, causing more of a distraction than an enhancement to the scene.
The blank backdrop was the perfect medium for LeAnn Burns’ lighting design to reflect the mood of a song with color. There are a couple instances where simple back-light leaving silhouettes of the performers give a fun punctuation to the end of a song. Plus the use of some moving lights and patterns add to the excitement of some more well-known songs.
Amanda J. Capshaw’s costumes are simple but effective in setting the tone of the show. The men play in jeans, boots, and flannel shirts, except Brian Mathis who spends most of the show as Johnny Cash. Katrina Kratzer has the most costume changes, changing into various dresses, with boots, throughout the show. Except for her “wedding” dress, an elegant all-white, country affair, Kratzer is kept in simple dresses, keeping with the classic country style of the show.
Sonny Franks did an excellent job of preparing a group of fine musicians to play Johnny Cash’s music. Once or twice there was a minor fumble of words but each note coming from the instruments was true and in time. The most interesting performance is of “Going to Memphis,” where percussion is performed with Brian Mathis picking up and dropping a chain and Spencer Baker banging on a pipe with a hammer. Mathis also gets to shine with a drum solo on a chair during “Folsom Prison Blues.” The best part about these talented musicians is how they can change instruments throughout the show. Most of the show is played with two guitars, a bass, and a violin but when the opportunity arises an accordion and harmonica make appearances.
BJ Cleveland has a great, skilled cast capable of performing the story he added to a musical with a flimsy script. Fun times are had, often at Sonny Frank’s character, David’s expense. The cast entertainingly leaves him out of choreography, or when David takes lead to poke fun at an audience member in “Egg Suckin’ Dog.” Brian Mathis has a commanding presence that draws the audience to him, making him exceptionally well suited to play Johnny Cash. Spencer Baker takes on the role of younger Johnny, when needed, and shines with Katrina Kratzer on “Jackson.” Kratzer floats between a representation of Johnny Cash’s first wife and June Carter with touching emotional performances, like “I Still Miss Someone” and the duet with Mathis “Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Jordan” or with humorous songs, like “Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart.” Ian Ferguson plays support for most of the show but does a fantastic rendition of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” as Johnny Cash coming down off an amphetamine high.
Ring of Fire at Watertower Theatre is saved by excellent direction and performances. A flimsy script with barely the outline of a story makes the show closer to watching a cover band than a play. However, if you want to hear what is possibly the best Johnny Cash cover band in North Texas, you should see this production. If you need something with more story, perhaps wait for Million Dollar Quartet.
Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through October 30th
Wednesday - Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, with matinées Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $30.00 - $40.00, depending on day of performance. Senior tickets are discounted $3.00 Wednesday – Friday performances. Student Rush tickets are $12.00 each, available 15 minutes before curtain time. Standby tickets are sold one hour prior to any sold out performance. Groups of 10 or more receive $3.00 off each ticket. You must call to reserve for groups. For info go to http://www.watertowertheatre.org or call (972) 450-6232.