The Man in Black comes alive in "Ring of Fire"
The musical "Ring of Fire," which takes its title from a song by Country and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Johnny Cash, isn’t a linear play.
It tells the story of Cash’s life through a series of music performances that are highlighted by projected images and spoken-word narration featured in the book "Cash: The Autobiography."
The Dark Horse Company Theatre will present the show at the Egyptian Theatre beginning Friday, March 16, and run every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through March 25.
Daniel Simons, producer and actor for the troupe, has a special connection to "Ring of Fire."
"I was in New York a few months ago and got a random call-back to audition for a production out there," Simons said in an interview with The Park Record, during a break from constructing the set. "I didn’t know anything about the show and after the auditions, I did some more research about it."
Although Simons wasn’t cast in the New York production, he was asked to audition for the show by another company in Denver, Colorado.
"That’s when I decided to do more research and actually read Johnny Cash’s autobiography," Simons said. "I really liked the way he writes and the way he tells stories. His words, in addition to his music, are extremely moving and powerful.
Once Simons finished his research, he knew "Ring of Fire" would be a great project to tackle.
"The simplicity of his writing is very poetic and comes across as the type of storytelling that Dark Horse likes to do, and it’s really cool to take on a true story," he said. "Since Dark Horse likes to do things that aren’t the norm in theatre in Utah, it fits what we do and what we want to bring up in Park City."
While "Ring of Fire" is considered musical theatre, and uses all of the Man in Black’s music, there isn’t a single Johnny Cash character in the cast, Simons said.
"There are seven actors who, during their individual sets, will introduce themselves as Johnny Cash, but aren’t really him," he said. "The back-up band plays through the whole show and each of the actors open their set with ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ and it goes from there.
"No one is impersonating him, but we’re all telling his story by relaying the text is taken directly from his autobiography," Simons said. "It’s as if he wrote the entire show and someone else made it into a performance. It’s a really neat project."
One unique aspect of the show is that all the performers are musicians.
"Everyone plays an instrument and we are supported by a back-up band that features drum, bass and a fiddle," Simons said.
It’s also a very intense work.
"Originally, the show that was on Broadway featured more than 40 songs, but it’s been cut down a lot since then because we don’t want to do a 3 ½-hour show," Simons said with a laugh. "It still has some great tunes, and the music is very powerful. When you add little anecdotes of his life throughout the song breaks, the show becomes pretty compelling."
Simons remembers listening to a Johnny Cash eight-track tape while he was a child living in Idaho.
"I grew up in a big farm family with five boys and every weekend, one of us would get to ride with my dad in his semi during one of his routes," Simons said. "My dad had a total of five tapes and I would choose the Johnny Cash one.
"I learned ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ which I sing in the show, and I’ve always liked his music, but I never was sat down and intensely listened to his songs as completely as I have since we’ve been preparing for the show."
Although the set up of the show is pretty simple, the story itself is powerful.
"There are some heartbreaking things that happened in his life that we touch on," Simons said. "We go into his drug problems and the death of his brother, and we do them through these beautiful songs."
While preparing for the production, Simons has learned some interesting things about Cash.
"One of those things was his view about Christianity," Simons said. "Obviously, he lived in the Bible Belt and played at the Grand Ole Opry, so a lot of his songs were spiritual in nature. But in his book, he said it wasn’t because he was trying to be spiritual, but it was just part of his upbringing."
Cash also had a similar philosophy about country music.
" He wrote about how the music was developed through a way of life," Simons said. "He wrote that a lot of country stars today don’t necessarily don’t know what being country is, because they haven’t really experienced it."
Simons said "Ring of Fire" has helped him appreciate Cash not only as a musician and icon, but as a human being.
"He wasn’t a fabricated musician and he had a lot of difficulties he worked through," Simons said. "I found it admirable that that he wrote music not for fame or fortune. The music came from a real person and a real place.
"Johnny Cash was an interesting man and the show is really a fascinating and emotional journey that is highly enjoyable to see and perform," he said.
The Dark Horse Company Theatre will present "Ring of Fire" a story loosely based on the life and times of Johnny Cash, at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. The show will run every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from Friday, March 16, through Saturday, March 24. Curtain on Thursdays through Saturdays are 8 p.m. Sunday curtain is 6 p.m. and showtime for Saturday, March 24, is 5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com .
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