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Civic's 'Ring of Fire' is a winner, thanks to Cash songs

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Let’s face it: The possibility of laying an egg with an entire show of Johnny Cash songs is rather remote.

By that standard, "Ring of Fire," which opened Friday at Rochester Civic Theatre is a winner. But it’s more than that. The show, directed by Jon Hegge, transports the audience over and above whatever day-to-day problems might be casting a shadow. By telling the story of Cash through his music, "Ring of Fire" offers hope, faith, redemption and a healthy dose of humor, all qualities that were present in his songs.

The Civic pulled out all the stops for this show, bringing in Broadway actor Scott Wakefield to lead a cast that also includes professional actors Steve Koehler and Stephen Hardy, as well as Rochester’s Dianna Parks and Steve Sawyer. Musical direction is by Brandon Sampson.

Wakefield narrates the show, tying together the major episodes of Cash’s life, from boyhood on a cotton farm in Arkansas to his first recording session, stardom, struggle with drugs, romance with June Carter and his status as one of the giants of American music.

Amazingly, the show contains three dozen Cash songs but doesn’t even get to all of his hits. Some of the biggest are here, though, starting with the most important one: "The Man in Black," performed with purpose by Wakefield.

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Among other highlights: "Jackson," by Parks and Wakefield, a beautiful "I Still Miss Someone" by Parks with that wonderful catch in her voice, the dark humor of "Delia’s Gone" by Hardy, a mournful "Sunday Morning Coming Down" by Koehler, and full-cast renditions of "I’ve Been Everywhere" and "Daddy Sang Bass."

If that’s not enough, "A Boy Names Sue" winds up the show on a perfect note.

If there is a shortcoming in the performances, it’s that the singing voices, in contrast to Cash’s voice, are too pretty. If you’re expecting to hear Cash, there’s no gravel or wavering where perhaps there should be. Likewise, some of the arrangements smooth off the raw edges of Cash’s originals.

None of that, though, will diminish your enjoyment of the show. It will perhaps send you back to the original recordings, but that’s a good thing, right? The world still needs a man in black.

What:"Ring of Fire"

When: Through July 29

Where: Rochester Civic Theatre, 20 Civic Center Drive SE

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Tickets: $31 adults, $26 seniors, $21 students; 507-282-8481 and rochestercivictheatre.org.

Related Topics: MUSIC
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