Love, struggles and family,” said Ben Whitmore about the musical revue “Ring of Fire” at the Lake Dillon Theatre Company. “It uses the platform of Cash’s life and rise to fame to make us all focus on what really mattered in his music and in our lives: heart.”
Whitmore, the theater’s production manager, performs in the show, which runs through Sept. 21.
This regional premiere of “Ring of Fire,” which was conceived by Bill Meade and created by Richard Maltby Jr., features a small but mighty ensemble of singers and instrumentalists who perform 31 of the best-known songs by one of America’s most beloved, yet tortured, singer-songwriters.
“‘Ring of Fire’ originally debuted on Broadway in March of 2006 in a different format,” said Christopher Alleman, Lake Dillon Theatre Company producing artistic director, who directs the production.
“The show featured a larger ensemble of singers, actors, dancers and musicians who more directly portrayed the characters and stories from Cash’s life.
“Some critics thought the show was too intimate for the huge Broadway stage. So the creators of the show made some adjustments with a more intimate ensemble of performers who sing, act and play their own instruments. We are excited to be among the first theater companies in the country to produce it.”
Returning Lake Dillon Theatre members Whitmore (“Don’t Dress for Dinner,” “Hair”) and Kevin Alan (“Scapin,” “The 39 Steps”) join the talented ensemble of performers including Keith Potts, John Hays and Jessica Kahkoska.
An ensemble of Quadruple Threats
Though Cash is never directly impersonated, “Ring of Fire” showcases his remarkable life story through his music. Five talented actor-musicians sing, play instruments, dance and act in an ongoing series of vignettes that bring to life the memorable characters and events throughout Cash’s legendary career and personal life.
“‘Ring of Fire’ is unique among musical revues,” Whitmore said. “It’s a tribute to Johnny Cash, but it’s more than just a concert. We all embody different parts of Cash and the music that so many of us are familiar with. I really wanted a chance to tackle a show where the actors also play their own instruments. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash, so when this show came up, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.”
The ensemble of four men and one woman takes turns as lead actor or vocalist while accompanying, singing backup harmonies and playing more minor roles in Cash’s life; each maintains a uniquely distinct stage persona that gives the musical revue a sincere, yet exciting energy.
“I play electric and acoustic guitars,” Alan said. “I believe I represent the younger Cash, the Cash who is starting out and vulnerable to the evils of the performance world. He loves wholly and falls into temptation wholly. This production excited me for many reasons. I get to play my guitar as a musician, and I get the chance to work with great musician actors.”
Music for everyone
The ensemble performs a wide range of hits from Cash’s impressive musical canon, which includes not only country but also spans the genres of rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly, folk, blues and gospel.
“Some of the musical numbers stay very true to their original performance style and orchestrations, while many of the songs have been rearranged for this specific production,” Alleman said. “Our musical director (Cameron Kinnear) is an exceptionally talented arranger and composer in his own right, and the way the tunes all come together is incredible. People are going to clap and dance along to some numbers and then have honest, emotional reactions to others.”
“We all know the famous tunes like ‘Fulsom Prison Blues,’ ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Jackson,’” Whitmore said. “But it’s the old gospel tunes I find the most fun to sing. The harmonies and arrangements in this show are phenomenal.”
“My favorite song is ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down,’” Alan said. “I think it’s the most dramatically satisfying song in the show.”
“Ring of Fire” is the seventh production of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company’s 20th anniversary season, featuring nine productions that celebrate journeys of self-discovery and growth amid a changing American landscape.
“(‘Ring of Fire’) is perfect for our 20th anniversary season because it celebrates the life of an American singer that for so many people reflected their experiences of hardship, heartache and faith,” Alleman said. “Johnny Cash triumphed over many struggles, from loss to addiction, and he did a lot of good for a lot of people. The music, story and performances are incredible. It’s a great show that all audiences will love.”