September 28, 2005

Johnny Cash musical “Ring of Fire” to hit Broadway

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - He topped Nashville charts, conquered
New York publishing and is the subject of a new movie. Now the
late Johnny Cash will reach Broadway in February with the
opening of "Ring of Fire," a musical featuring the classic
songs of the legend known as "The Man in Black."

The producers said on Wednesday the musical featuring 38 of
Cash's songs would begin performances in New York in February,
directed by Richard Maltby, who won a Tony Award for conceiving
and directing the Fats Waller musical "Ain't Misbehavin'."

The show follows a string of so-called "jukebox musicals"
using an artist's song catalog, and comes within months of a
biopic about the country legend, "Walk the Line," which was a
hit at the Toronto Film Festival this month.

After a career that spanned five decades, Cash died in
2003, just a few months after the death of his wife, country
singer June Carter Cash.

He told his own story -- from his youth as the son of an

Arkansas sharecropper, to touring with Elvis Presley and
Jerry Lee Lewis and his descent into drug addiction -- in the
book "Cash: The Autobiography," published in 1997.

The musical, which is playing a pre-Broadway engagement in
Buffalo, New York, this month, features all the hits from "I
Walk the Line" to "The Man in Black" and "Country Boy."

The Buffalo opening won a good review from The Toronto
Star, which urged readers to put aside reservations about
jukebox musicals based on disappointing recent shows such as
those based on the music of John Lennon and the Beach Boys.

"There's no cliched stage biography here, nor is there an
artificially constructed story trying to string it all
together," the newspaper wrote. "What you get are three dozen
numbers that Cash performed in his lifetime, presented in an
impressionistic format that suggests the man's life journey,
without ever spelling it out."

No single actor sings all Cash's songs or plays him.

"The persona, the voice, are unduplicatable, and the very
best we could achieve would be a poor imitation," Maltby said,
explaining the decision not to present Cash himself on stage.

In the program notes for the Buffalo production, he said
Cash, who had rejected several previous ideas for a musical,
had given his approval for the project shortly before he died.

Maltby said that while it is not Cash's life story, what
emerges is "an almost mythic American tale -- of growing up in
simple, dirt-poor surroundings in the heartland of America,
leaving home, traveling on wings of music, finding love,
misadventure, success, faith, redemption, and the love of a
good woman."