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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Classic Cash at the Stackner

All music, no storyline

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It’s been close to a decade since Johnny Cash passed away. But his musical legacy lives on, most recently in the readapted musical, Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, which opened at The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret last weekend.

For those wanting to hear a spirited, multi-talented five-piece band sing and perform many of Cash’s hits, this show’s for you. Within its 110 minutes (including a 25-minute intermission opening night), there are some wonderful renditions of the recognizable classics (“Folsom Prison Blues” and “Man in Black” are standouts) as well as some beautifully wrought ballads such as “There You Go.”

But if it’s a storyline you’re looking for, there’s not much factual information to be found in the book for this jukebox musical. There are passing references to some key events, such as Cash’s drug addiction (he thought speed made him a better performer) and the tragic death of his older brother Jack at age 14 (which had a major impact on Cash’s music, although you won’t find that in ROF). Dialogue is just an excuse to get to the singin’ and performin’. Adding to the challenge is that the show’s creator and director, Richard Maltby, Jr., has rescaled this version to five performers. So, actor Jason Edwards plays the older Cash (at times) and the younger Eddie Clendening plays the younger Cash (at times).

Fortunately, these two, along with fellow performers Mark W. Winchester, David Miles Keenan and vocalist Trenna Barnes, keep the audience fully engaged and entertained with various vignettes loosely built around songs, such as the family farm flooding in “Five Feet High and Rising,” and the flirtatious kitchen interplay of “While I’ve Got It On My Mind.”

There’s only ever been one true Man in Black. And since the Man is gone, Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash allows us to sit back and enjoy the rich musical history he’s given us all.

The production continues through May 5 at The Rep’s Stackner Cabaret, 108 E. Wells St. For tickets, visit milwaukeerep.com or call 414-224-9490.
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