Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, and his somewhat turbulent life have been the subject of more than a few biopics and documentaries since his death in 2003 at the age of 71.
But William Meade's jukebox musical "Ring of Fire," opening Feb. 22 at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, is less about the man and more of a tribute to his musical legacy.
"This is a salute to him and to the music that he shared with the world," says director Amy Perdue, adding that the show includes 31 of Cash's songs and little dialogue. A co-production Henrico Theatre Company with the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, the performers in "Ring of Fire" will portray Johnny Cash as they tell his story through his music.
"When I tell people what I'm doing, they always ask, 'Who's playing Johnny Cash?' and, well, I tell them I'm playing Johnny Cash — we all are," says performer Shannon Brown. "We are each playing a different facet of him, of his music. The songs can sound bluesy or soulful or rock, and you get to hear all of those different facets through these amazing performers."
The show features eight performers, seven of whom are reprising roles from a Henrico Theatre Company production in 2012. Perdue says she wanted to bring the show back for the company's 40th anniversary, and was thrilled to be able to use some the same cast members.
Performer Nancy McMahon jumped at the opportunity to return to this cast and this show, she says.
"When you work with people you like, and you have the chance to do it again, you're always going to say, 'yes.'" In the seven years between productions, she and the other cast members have grown close, shared and celebrated significant moments in each other's lives. Now, she says, "there's a social aspect to it," and she loves getting to perform with friends.
Brown agrees, saying that the connection between the performers is a part of the allure of this production.
"We are really just having a lot of fun up there," she says. She adds that these performers — musicians, vocalists and actors alike — are amazing talents, but not the big names one usually sees on the Richmond stage. "It's kind of like Richmond's best-kept secret," she says, adding that audiences can expect some wow factor onstage.
In the end, though, McMahon and Brown agree that the music is the most exciting.
"He's thought of as a country musician, but if you come and see it, it's hymns, gospel, folk music, " McMahon explains. "His talent crossed a lot of musical genres. That's what's fascinating to me."
"This show is made for an ensemble, so there are harmonies, singing in a round, blending of voices. It all adds more dimension to that music. It's not just a man and a guitar, it's soprano, alto, baritone," Brown adds. "These arrangements add color to that 'Man in Black' persona, really giving it more breadth and width and making it more accessible."
Henrico Theatre Company's "Ring of Fire" runs from Feb. 22 - March 3 at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Tickets Cost $15. artsglenallen.com.