TRW’s RING OF FIRE: THE MUSIC OF JOHNNY CASH has had a remarkable journey from Broadway to theaters across the world. The show recently received a hot new re-conception by original ROF creator Richard Maltby, Jr., at the Milwaukee Rep, featuring a cast of five actor/musicians.
TRW’s Director of Music & Materials David Abbinanti was in Milwaukee for the opening of the re-boot of the ROF franchise. “Richard Maltby Jr. and the entire cast and crew of Ring of Fire have truly created something special at Milwaukee Rep, ” said Abbinanti. “We know it is no easy task to create an intimate, five-piece version of a major musical (originally consisting of sixteen cast members and musicians) while still maintaining the integrity and heart of the show. What this production does, is it lets Johnny Cash’s music tell the story of his life, ” he continued. “There is minimal dialogue, however, unlike a traditional review or concert, this production allows the audience to experience of the ups and downs of this legendary, yet deeply troubled artist, through his own vehicle of self-expression. The songs tell the story.”
From the opening chords of vintage Country to Rockabilly, Rock n’ Roll, searing ballads and gentle songs of love and deep faith, ROF packs a score that provides a rich fabric in which to lay down the story of Johnny Cash. The great bio-pic “Walk the Line” told the story of the events of Cash’s life and the incredible struggles and triumphs of his life. RING OF FIRE gives the music the spotlight, as a core group of talented actor/musicians celebrate the songs that are such a part of our collective experience.
TRW’s Director of Professional Licensing, Sean Cercone added, “This new version is perfectly suited for the thousands of smaller theatres throughout North America and the world as Johnny’s music lives on and is embraced by new generations of Americans.”
Richard Maltby's Author's Notes from the original Broadway production:
Bill Meade got the idea for putting the music of Johnny Cash on the stage. Many people had approached Johnny over the years, but only Bill's idea convinced him, and just before he died in 2003, Johnny Cash gave Bill the stage rights to this material.
When Bill asked me to create the theatrical show out of the music of Johnny Cash, he gave me a stack of CDs and books about two feet high (and rising). I listened and read and began to think, and several things became immediately clear. First, we shouldn't attempt to put Johnny Cash himself on stage. The persona, the voice, are not duplicable, and the very best we could achieve would be a poor imitation. Second, as fascinating as Johnny Cash's life was, it seemed to me that dramatizing it no stage would not enhance it. A film could do that, perhaps, and indeed there is a movie coming out soon called I WALK THE LINE which will probably dramatize his life very well.
To me, Johnny Cash's biography wasn't the most important story available to tell. Taking all the songs together, adding in the life he led, the person he was, the people he nkew, loved, and sang about, it seemed to me that there was another story here. It's almost a 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—and eventually returning home. It's about the journey of a man in search of his own soul, which is in fact what emerges when you consider all the details of Cash's life together. That seemed to be a worthy story to put on a stage—and the best part is we could tell it entirely through the songs.
I refer to this as a story, but you won't find a plot, or dramatized scenes, on stage in this entertainment. The details are there for those who chose to find them, but along with them are glimpses of the world Cash lived in—of home, and family, and the land; of hard work and adversity; of faith and love and compassion for people who lead hard lives or are down on their luck. Humor is what gets you through this life, as these songs often show—and the simple hungers that draw one person to another are addressed with complete directness. These songs are full love and feeling, wit and understanding, and like all country songs, they tell it like it is.
I have complete faith that although we do not dramatize Johnny Cash's life, by the end of the show the audience will feel that they have spent the evening in the presence of an extraordinary and real man. In many ways, Johnny Cash wrote and sang about the lives we lead, regardless of where we lead them. If, watching this show, you feel yourself being drawn back to your roots, it isn't accidental—even if you've forgotten what those roots are. I hope, as we bring to life these wonderful songs, we will touch your heart, mind and soul as well, and take you back to part of your life you may want to return to.
RICHARD MALTBY, JR.
Richard Maltby, Jr. includes among his Broadway credits: Conceived/directed AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' (1978 Tony, NY Drama Critics, Outer Critics and Drama Desk Awards. Also Tony Award for Best Director); FOSSE (1999 Tony, Outer Critics and Drama Desk Awards). Lyricist: MISS SAIGON (Evening Standard Award 1990, Tony Nomination for Best Score 1991). Director and co-lyricist of Andrew Lloyd Webber's SONG & DANCE, 1986 (Tony Award for star Bernadette Peters). With composer David Shire: director/lyricist BABY, 1983 (book by Sybille Pearson; seven Tony Award nominations); Lyricist: BIG, 1996 (book by John Weidman. Tony nomination: Best Score).Off-Broadway credits: director/lyricist STARTING HERE, STARTING NOW, 1977 (Grammy Award nomination); CLOSER THAN EVER, 1989 (Outer Critics Circle Awards: Best Musical, Best Score). Contributes devilish crossword puzzles to Harpers Magazine. Son of well-known orchestra leader; married to Janet Brenner; five children: Nicholas, David, Jordan, Emily and Charlotte.