The Man in Black Is Back

Johnny Cash, with his craggy features and long, black coat, cut a majestic figure in the annals of American music, but his earthy baritone and his songs -- stark, sometimes outspoken and always well-wrought -- were his real legacy. It's those songs, nearly three dozen of them, that make up Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, a musical tribute created by Richard Maltby, Jr. (Ain't Misbehavin') and conceived by the late musician and producer William Meade. The show opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Stage Theatre. But this will be more than a simple revue, says director and cast member Jason Edwards. Much like Mama Hated Diesels, in which Edwards also performed here two years ago, Ring is more a string of vignettes, some of them comic, each resting solidly on the laurels of Cash's vivid lyrics and melodies.

It helps that the cast includes a crack, hand-picked cast of ten musicians, Edwards being just one of them. "[Keyboardist] Jeff Lisenby -- he's like a professor. He can play everything," Edwards raves. "[Guitarist] Brent Moyer is a Nashville journeyman. And [fiddler] Brantley Kearns -- I knew his fiddle playing was good, but he's such a natural actor, too." That, he adds, provides a foundation for an evening that's pure joy for audience and cast alike: "It's a gift. I've played in musicals a lot in my career, but I never thought I'd be in a musical where I could stand on the stage and hear 'Folsom Prison Blues.'"

See Ring of Fire at the Stage, in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, daily except Mondays through May 13; for tickets, which start at $35, call 303-893-4100 or go to www.denvercenter.org.
Fridays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 1:30 & 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 1:30 p.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. Starts: March 23. Continues through May 13, 2012

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd