Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Ring of Fire
Also see Fred's recent review of 4000 Miles
Director/choreographer Sherry Lutken has done a wonderful job staging this musical and she really brings out the best in all of the performers. And, if the narrative of the show gets a little confusing or unfocused, there is always another great musical number to get the show back on track again. Even if you are not necessarily a fan of Johnny Cash, this Ring of Fire is a riotous good time and definitely worth seeing.
Ring of Fire chronicles the life of Johnny Cash from childhood to adulthood, both in words and, even better, in song. The show sags a little bit within the framework of the story, with some puzzlement of whom everyone onstage is supposed to be and whether there is more than one performer portraying Johnny Cash at any given moment. Still, when the music starts, these questions fade away and the audience is swept up in the terrific songs. There are over thirty songs in Ring of Fire and everyone in the company, in addition to being fantastic as an ensemble, gets their big number to really stand out.
There are many highlights in this production. David M. Lutken takes centerstage right from the start and he speaks authoritatively to the audience throughout. In addition to being one of the performers, he is also the excellent musical director. He is especially good in the song "Flesh & Blood" and then, later, he gets the reflective "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down'," which he sings beautifully. His partner in the song "Flesh & Blood" is the lively Leenya Rideout, who wonderfully performs in "Jackson" and "While I Got It on My Mind." Brittney Brook, the only other woman in the company, is a delight, particularly in the songs "Flushed" and "There You Go."
The other performers do similarly well. Sam Sherwood is quite good and he duets flawlessly with Brook in the lovely "I Still Miss Someone" and on the title song at the end of the first act. Nygel D. Robinson is a fine ensemble member and grand singing his big solo number, "Straight A's in Love." Morgan Morse is super leading "Get Rhythm" and has a great deal of fun singing "A Boy Named Sue" with Lutken and Sherwood. Spiff Wiegand, whom I just saw do great work in The Buddy Holly Story, is just as strong in this show and gets a lot of laughs with the song "Look at them Beans."
All seven of the actors also excel in playing a variety of musical instruments, which they do thrillingly. And, as good as the solos and duets are, the best moments in Ring of Fire are the group numbers, particularly "I've Been Everywhere," which is a roof-raiser, and "Man in Black." As well as doing such an expert job with the performers, director/choreographer Sherry Lutken works wonders with the designers, with scenic designer Cully Long providing the perfect, weathered looking set for the show. Costume and wig designer Elizabeth Saylor is terrific, providing the appropriate and attractive costumes for the cast, and Marcus Abbott's lighting design is atmospheric and extremely effective.
Ring of Fire at Ivoryton Playhouse provides a lot of enjoyment and, by the end, the succession of fabulous Johnny Cash songs practically galvanized the audience into cheers at the performance I attended. In both the numbers and the narrative, this show gloriously celebrates the life story of Johnny Cash. By all means, check out Ring of Fire at Ivoryton Playhouse; it's quite a feel-good winner. Noted that, after every Sunday performance, the cast stages a hootenanny after the show which anyone can join in.
Ring of Fire runs through September 11, 2022, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.