Ring of Fire
Created and Directed by Richard Maltby Jr. Conceived by William Meade
Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York. Opened 12th March 2006; Closed 30th April, 2006
The History of RING OF FIRE
by Richard Maltby, Jr. (Director / Creator)
About six years ago, Bill Meade got the idea for putting the music of Johnny Cash on the stage. Many people had approached Johnny, but only Bill's idea convinced him, and after about five years, just before he died, Johnny gave Bill the stage rights to this material.
When Bill asked me to create a theatrical show out of the music of Johnny Cash, he gave me a stack of CD's and books about two feet high (and rising). I listened and read and began to think, and two things became immediately clear. First, we shouldn't attempt to put Johnny Cash himself on the stage. The persona, the voice, are unduplicatable, and the very best we could achieve would be a poor imitation. Second, as interesting as Johnny Cash's life was, dramatizing it on the stage (it seemed to me) would only lessen, not enhance, it. A film could do that, perhaps, and indeed the movie that recently came out called Walk the Line dramatized his early life quite brilliantly.
But 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 knew, loved, and sang about, it seemed to me that there is another story here. It's 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 -- and eventually returning home. It's about the journey of a man in search of his own soul, which is what in fact 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 in the songs.
I refer to this as a story, but you won't find a plot, or dramatised scenes, on stage in this entertainment. The details are there for those who choose 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 so often show -- and the simple hungers that draw one person to another are addressed with complete directness. These are songs full of 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 all 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 too back to a part of your life you may want to return to.
Original Cast Members
- Jeb Brown
- Jason Edwards
- Jarrod Emick
- Beth Malone
- Cass Morgan
- Lari White
Banjo, Dobro, Evoharp, Guitar, Harmonica, Mandolin, Keyboards, Accordion, Electric Guitar, Fiddle, Bass, Drums, Cornet