Chicago Theatre Review
The Music of Johnny Cash
Ring of Fire – Mercury Theatre
Even if you’re not a fan of this legendary singer, or of Country- Western music, this jukebox musical that traces the life of the “Man in Black” is a winner. The production is simple, unaffected, yet polished and more resembles a concert of Johnny Cash’s greatest hits than an actual biographical musical. There’s very little dialogue, but lots of songs and infectious bluegrass instrumentals. The seven multitalented performers are so likable that afterwards you’ll want to invite them home for dinner, or at least join them in a beer. Not only are these artists terrific singers who, if you know Johnny and June Carter Cash, look the part (thanks, in part, to the costumes and wigs by Brenda Winstead and Kevin Barthel), but each performer also accompanies themselves on multiple musical instruments.
The show includes most of Johnny Cash’s best-loved hits, songs that will be familiar to even those who don’t know Country-Western from Country fried steak. There are even several lovely tunes that may even be new to his most dedicated fans. Songs that everyone will recognize include the title song, “Daddy Sang Bass,” “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” ”Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line” and of course, the cast’s encore number, “A Boy Named Sue.”
Kent M. Lewis inhabits the very heart, soul and sound of Johnny Cash. This handsome, talented actor/singer, who’s toured the country in “Billy Elliot” and co-starred in the LasVegas production of “Mamma Mia,” will convince the most jaded audience member that he’s the real deal. Mr. Lewis IS Johnny Cash, through and through. Cash’s younger self is played to perfection by Michael Monroe Goodman. This young man, who portrayed Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash in Chicago’s “Million Dollar Quartet,” is every bit as engaging and talented a singer/actor/musician as Mr. Lewis, and he provides much of the warm comic moments in this show. Cory Goodrich plays June Carter Cash with all the sass and sparkle one would expect from this gifted young woman. Recently seen at Mercury Theater in “The Addams Family,” the beautiful Ms. Goodrich is the show’s sole female, a role in which she revels. With guitar or autoharp in hand, she performs the heck out of songs like “Jackson,” the hilarious “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart” and her impressive patter song that opens Act II, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
The instrumental/vocal ensemble features the always marvelous Malcolm Ruhl, who also serves as the show’s Musical Director; the most talented, charismatic, multitalented pianist-musician in Chicago, the handsome Austin Cook; Chicago’s master of the fiddle, guitar and mandolin, the dry-witted Greg Hirte; and tirelessly energetic percussionist and drummer, Billy Shaffer. All of these musicians add magic to this musical with their many talents, and the show wouldn’t be the same without them.
With some mighty fine direction by Brian Russell, this slick production of Richard Maltby and William Meade’s jukebox musical, originally playing on Broadway nine years ago, has entertained audiences all over the country. Chicago is very lucky to have this polished, professionally performed musical back here for the summer. Audiences needn’t be Country-Western devotees to appreciate all the talent, skill and artistry found in this production and it’s very likely that “The Man in Black” will win a lot of new fans, courtesy of the charm radiated from this magnificent show.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 30-June 28 by Mercury Theater Chicago, in association with Theatre at the Center, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by by calling 773-325-1700 or by going to www.mercurytheaterchicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.