Actually, it’s more like three women, along with five men to boot.
“At one time or another throughout the show, all of us are Johnny Cash, including the three women. It’s his music and we celebrate that music,” says Chad Willow, music director of “Ring of Fire: The Life And Music of Johnny Cash,” a production that celebrates the many facets of the Man in Black’s spirit through his own songs.
Coming to the Ritz Theater in Talladega for one night only, an ensemble cast from the Minnesota-based Troupe America tells the story of Cash that crescendos from his humble beginnings in Arkansas, marked by poverty and the death of his older brother, through his rise to fame, bad-boy phase and quiet ending.
“It really is about his essence,” Willow says. “We talk about that and then how that affected his writing — the songs that came out of that, and how he became a champion for the imprisoned man, and then realizing that his faith was really important to him.”
The production goes beyond impersonation but doesn’t forget to engage and entertain, showcasing the many instruments, costumes and time periods that stand out from Cash’s 71-year legacy.
“You get to realize that ‘Wow, these are really great songs,’ versus Johnny Cash isn’t the only one that can sing them. He wrote really good songs and he happened to make them famous,” says Willow. “No matter if you like Johnny Cash or not, it’s a really good show.”
The production’s interpretive format allows for old and new fans alike to get a taste of Cash’s rugged nature from multiple points of view. Though the father of five was always dressed in black and battled issues with drugs and alcohol, he had a strong faith and a tight marriage to songstress June Carter. All of it came through in his work including songs like the hard-knock anthem “A Boy Named Sue,” the tale of a troubled marriage in “Jackson,” and the patriotic “Ragged Old Flag.”
“Obviously Johnny Cash made these songs famous, but a woman can sing them and bring a new light and new magic to those songs also,” says Willow. “To hear a woman singing ‘Ring Of Fire’ — it’s fresh and new and you’re like ‘Wow, OK.’”
The show has been on the road since September, traveling through the South and across the country — even to Folsom, Calif., the inspiration for Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues” and live album “At Folsom Prison.” Willow, who performs “Folsom Prison Blues” as a cast member in the show, said he found himself a little intimidated to sing it in the title city.
“I was a little extra nervous that night because ... I’m in the city of this famous song made famous by Johnny Cash, an icon of American music” he said. “We were literally three miles away from that famous prison.”
Over the course of the 30 songs included in the show, “Ring of Fire” might just have audiences expecting Cash himself, who died in 2003, to appear from behind the curtain.
“We all know that sometimes when people come to the show they didn’t get the memo that there’s no Johnny Cash impersonator,” says Willow. “So we always can kind of tell (in) the audience the ones that are like ‘Wait a minute — where’s Johnny? You’re not Johnny. You don’t look like Johnny!”
IF YOU GO…
WHAT: “Ring Of Fire: The Life And Music of Johnny Cash”
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Ritz Theater, 115 Court Sqaure N., Talladega.
TICKETS: Advanced tickets available by calling the box office, 256-315-0000
INFO: Online at www.ritztalladega.com and www.troupeamerica.com/ringoffire