“Ring of Fire” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – March 13, 2021


The Phoenix Theatre Company, Outdoor Theatre, Courtyard, Central United Methodist Church
Phoenix, AZ

For musical theater lovers, country/western singer Johnny Cash has little relevance while Cash lovers have little use for musicals.  So, it was surprising when Richard Maltby, Jr. and William Meade used several popular Cash song hits to create “Ring of Fire,” a tribute to the great song writer/singer.  And when The Phoenix Theatre Company mounts a sharply performed production, the result is a highly entertaining show that will appeal to country/western lovers as well as those not usually attuned to this musical genre.  There is little dialogue between the two-dozen songs but the song list tells all audiences need to know about Cash and what motivated him to pen his many songs.

Scott Weinstein’s breezy staging plus some clever visual projections suggest Cash’s country music roots leading up to his Grand Ole Opry triumphs.  And the five-person ensemble sing and play a multitude of twangy instruments that bring the Cash sound alive with pleasant authenticity.  The players also harmonize with stunning precision, a trait these songs require with the swinging arrangements that sell the simple tunes.  The flawless scenic projections further take audiences to Cash’s homeland and the source of his musical idiom.

The cast further demonstrates their performing chops by dancing up a foot-stompin’ storm to give the songs the feel that composer Cash intended.  The artists are aided by a superlative sound system that allows every telling song lyric to resonate with sharply gripping clarion perfection.  The result is fabulous entertainment both for Cash-lovers and those not as familiar with these wildly popular hits.

The superb cast adds the marvelous gloss on the production to make it so richly rewarding.  It’s hard to pick favorites but Greg Hammer plays the legendary singer/composer throughout while strumming on guitars and banjos.  Cassie Chilton plays a mean violin with the swaying musical beat that adds just the right strumming delight to the tunes.  Austin Case plays a rich bass and when he actually balances on his instrument, the effect is crowd-pleasing enthusiasm.  Local TPTC charmer Michelle Chin dances, sings, and plays a beat-laden washboard with classy aplomb.

This theater critic is certainly not a Johnny Cash aficionado but the rousing “Ring of Fire” production helped cut the evening’s cool outside theater chill to make for a super production and just about turned me into a Johnny Cash lover.  “Ring of Fire” runs through April 4.  For tickets, contact The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A

One Response to ““Ring of Fire” – The Phoenix Theatre Company”

  1. Carolyn Tennant said:

    Mar 25, 21 at 11:41

    My husband and I felt the same way you did. We loved the quality of the production. Though we were not Cash fans and are not country music lovers, the performance was a thorough delight. We think they should take this somewhere else. They could sell out crowds in Branson, MO, that is for sure, but I am certain there are many people who would love this if they took it on the road.