THIS IS A CELEBRATION OF JOHNNY CASH THAT EVEN NON COUNTRY MUSIC FANS WILL ENJOY
"Love is a burning thing, and it makes a firery ring, bound by wild desire, fall Into a RING OF FIRE”. Johnny Cash's lyrics ring perfection and open the 78th season of Altarena Playhouse. It is now running to sold out crowds through February 21 at the High Street stage in Alameda Ca. Director and Choreographer, Matthew McCoy, (founder and Artisic Director of Bay Area Musicals) says “RING OF FIRE” has been an extremely rewarding process; not only to be working with such an inspiring team of artists, but also to learn more than I ever did about the “man in black” RING is a love letter to life, music, and impact that Johnny Cash had the on world”. Created by Richard Maltby Jr.(Ain't Misbehavin', Fosse), and conceived by William Meade this is a scaled down version of the Broadway version that brings just four actors playing Cash. This is a top notch evening of celebration that even non-country music lovers will enjoy.
This show was not a huge success on Broadway, but done on the small intimate Altarena stage bringing the Cash sound as if he was in your living room, this could sell out the Alameda stage its entire season. The musical draws from his entire songbook, but it is not a biography of Johnny Cash. The 27 musical numbers, a mix of his American experience, is at its best. Using the themes from many of his numbers to tell brief moments of the man's life, as in “Daddy Sang Bass” with generations of a family sharing music and meals. Maltby designed the show not to include a story or dramatic scenes, but, let Cash's lyrics bring him home.
The four talented actors that bring RING OF FIRE to life all play Mr Cash sharing the song book and numbers with Music Director Rachel Robinson's on stage four piece band. The brilliant cast includes Eric Carlson, Anya Absten, Daniel Rubio, and Kate Metroka; all bring Johnny Cash to life. Local favorite Rubio opens the first act with “Country Boys” and gets the sold out house in the mood, his powerful voice and huge presence is tremendous. The two female company members Metroka and Absten are excellent; they fill in perfectly for June Carter, “Jackson” is one of the many highlights of the two hour musical. Carlson fills out the four and he also is a powerhouse, his “Going to Memphis” will bring back fond memories of the times of Johnny Cash.
McCoy keeps the show moving with some high stepping romps and uses the entire black box space for his actors to perform. Dance was a careful touch since “The Man in Black” did not move much on stage. This company really brings the Cash lyrics about home and family and loving somebody, it is about what holds you together in the face of a hard life. The set with its clever forest, and ole Opry look is well crafted by Artistic Director and Set Designer, Clay David. Courtney Johnson light design brings the Ole Opry to the small stage and has the perfect mood in the more dramatic numbers. Fred di Natale sound design is simple since the actors all have strong voices - but mic stands for props are added to Opry scenes.
Technical Director Stewart Lyle and Sound Tech Simon Liu do a marvelous mix with the vocals and live on stage band. Costumes are simple in the first act; John is in all white with some classic white boots and in the second act designer, Sharon Bell, has the four all in black. The band, Mike Smith, Lily Sevier and Francesca Brava are in the classic ole Opry fashion and colorful scarfs. The dance is small town heart filled two stepping, polka and clogging. McCoy’s choreography encouraged his actors to dance with audience members and that was an easy task since many fans were already mostly on their feet for many of the numbers.
The evening includes the best of Johnny Cash including “A Boy Named Sue” “Going to Memphis” “Folsom Prison Blues” “I Walk The Line” and many more all performed exceptional by the company with a stand out performance by the talented Rubio. The show ends with “I’ve Been Everywhere” with the company at full throttle, bringing the sold out opening night crowd to their feet. This non stop jukebox musical is a great way to open your 2016 theatre season. The run is mostly sold out but some seats remain and they have a waiting list for each performance. Altarena Playhouse has a special season planned for this year, next up is THE GIN GAME that opens March 11th. RING OF FIRE is a great night of theatre and song, Walk the Line and see this show.
Altarena Playhouse Presents
'RING OF FIRE'
By Richard Maltby, Jr.
The songs of Johnny Cash
Directed & Choreographed by Matthew McCoy
Eric Carlson, Anya Absten, Daniel Rubio, and Kate Metroka
January 15th Through February 21, 2016
Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
Running time: 2 hours,
510-523-1553, or click on
Photos by Jim Norrena ACT OUT Photography