Concert-style musical honors American icon
ALBANY, N.Y.—JUNE 18, 2018—Johnny Cash was a singular force in American music. A gospel-rooted country singer there at the birth of rock and roll; an inventive, influential songwriter; and an iconic, iconoclastic cultural touchstone.
“Johnny Cash will, like Will Rogers, stand forever as a symbol of intelligence, creativity, compassion and common sense,” said fellow hitmaker and former son-in-law Rodney Crowell on Cash’s death in 2003. “I’m thinking Mt. Rushmore.”
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, at Capital Repertory Theatre, July 6–Aug. 12, celebrates the singer with a deep draught of his classic catalog, including timeless favorites like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” “The Man in Black” and “Sunday Mornin,’ Coming Down.”
Cash was a difficult man, “a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,” as his friend—and “Sunday Morning” songwriter—Kris Kristofferson would have it. He lived and loved large, fighting addiction and finding solace in his faith and in his family in a seemingly endless cycle. But his music was always filled with the stuff of life itself.
Ring of Fire (created by Richard Maltby, Jr. and conceived by William Meade) is filled with those very songs, each one—”If I Were a Carpenter,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Daddy Sang Bass”—a bona fide smash.
“The story songs Cash sang, like ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ are what hooked me,” says actor/musician William Scott Sheets. “My dad was a big fan and I grew up listening to him as a kid in Oklahoma.”
Sheets is part of an ensemble cast, including Jacob Shipley, Josh D. Smith, Erikka Walsh, Paul Wyatt and Kurt Zischke, shepherded by theREP’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill. Smith, who is familiar to patrons from tuners like Camelot, Mamma Mia! and She Loves Me, also serves as musical director.
“This is the right group for this show,” says Sheets, who, like his castmates plays and sings all of the show’s music live onstage (accompanied by bassist Patrick O’Connell and drummer Joe Barna).
“I’ve been singing Johnny Cash’s songs for years—in clubs, theatres and on cruise ships—and these are some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever worked with. We’re keeping it true.”
No single actor plays Cash in Ring of Fire, and structurally, the show—like theREP’s popular 2016 summer entry A Night with Janis Joplin—is as much a concert as it is a stage musical.
“I love this mode of storytelling,” says Mancinelli-Cahill, “letting these amazing songs speak for themselves We’ve had such fun with country and folk music here, with great shows like Always … Patsy Cline, Hank Williams: Lost Highway and Woody Guthrie’s American Song. Johnny Cash is just as essential to our history and our sense of ourselves as a people as any one of those greats.”
The Chicago-based Sheets, a trained operatic baritone with country music “in his blood,” comes to Ring of Fire having actually played Cash four times in regional productions of the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet (most recently in Phoenix, Ariz.).
“You don’t want to impersonate someone like Johnny Cash, you want to emulate him,” says Sheets, who plays acoustic guitar and spoons. “That’s what we’re all doing here.”
The Brunswick-bred Shipley (who plays seven instruments in the show) recently starred at Proctors as John Newton in the national tour of Amazing Grace. He understudied Ring of Fire at Infinity Theatre Company and has also been at Cider Mill Playhouse, Mac Haydn Theatre and Cohoes Music Hall.
Walsh, who, as Trenna, plays fiddle, ukulele, mandolin and string bass, was in the original Broadway cast of Once, and has appeared off-Broadway in Red Roses, Green Gold and Come Light My Cigarette. She is a member of the band Bonfire Falls.
Wyatt, who performs with the eponymous sibling band Wyatt, joins Ring of Fire on six instruments. He has worked off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, The New York Theatre Company and Theatre at HA!
And Zischke, seen locally at Williamstown Theatre Festival and at theREP in The Underpants, plays acoustic and electric guitar and banjo. He has extensive Broadway, off-Broadway and national tour experience with Signs of Life, Whistle Down the Wind, The Buddy Holly Story and Barbara’s Blue Kitchen (by The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers playwright Lori Fischer).
All save Smith (who plays keyboards, melodica and autoharp) and Zischke are making their Capital Repertory Theatre debuts.
Mancinelli-Cahill’s production team includes Choreographer Freddy Ramirez, with Costume Designer Howard Kaplan, Lighting Designer Mike Riggs, Sound Designer Rider Q. Stanton, and Set and Projection Designer Barry Steele.
Preview performances for Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash take place July 6–8. Opening night is Tuesday, July 10. Regular performances continue through Sunday, Aug. 12. Performance times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday—with matinees 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. Wednesdays, July 18 & 25. Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets range from $25 to $69.50. Students with valid ID: $16 all shows. For tickets and information, call Tickets by Proctors, 518.445.SHOW (7469) or visit capitalrep.org.
Opening night includes live music by The Insolent Willies in the café at 6:30 p.m., and complimentary post-show champagne and dessert from Bella Napoli Bakery. The Chef’s Table performance, on Tuesday, July 17, includes complimentary light fare from The Hollow Bar + Kitchen, for ticketholders, in the lobby, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Post show discussions with representatives from Ring of Fire will follow evening performances on Wednesdays, July 18 and 25.
I Still Miss Someone: A Johnny Cash Remembrance, with roots scholar and multi-instrumentalist Michael Eck discussing Cash’s legacy, will preface the Saturday, July 21 matinee. The talk is included with show ticket and begins at 2 p.m.
The Sunday, July 29 matinee is preceded by a Behind-the-Scenes event, which features a light continental breakfast for ticketholders, and discussion led by Mancinelli-Cahill. Food service begins at 12:30 p.m., with the presentation following from 1–1:30 p.m.
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash is part of the 2018–2019 Season
at Capital Repertory Theatre and is sponsored by E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, LLP.