Saturday, February 25, 2006

Jukebox musicals

My first jukebox musical was Mamma Mia! I saw it in London, and never having been an ABBA fan growing up, it felt new and kind of fun. It remains one of the most successful in the genre that some might say it spawned. But the crowd of shows that have come after it haven't always offered reasons to cheer.

Still, when I had the chance to get cheap tickets to Ring of Fire, I took the opportunity because I've really come to enjoy Johnny Cash's music in the past few years. Realizing what a great influence he was on a whole boatload of musicians helped, but beyond that, the man sang, wrote, and popularized lots of good songs, even if you aren't a die-hard country fan. And in fact, certain times throughout his life, apparently, he rejected the idea that he should hew to the expectations of what a country singer should be, at least according to his daughter Rosanne Cash, who also shuns easy categorization.

Now I was under the impression that there was going to be some effort at creating a story around Cash's repetoire. I quickly realized that Ring is more of a revue with scenarios than a full-fledged musical the way Mamma Mia was. But once I resigned myself to the knowledge that there wasn't going to be anything more than a loose rise-and-fall (on the themes of love, fame, transgression, aging, faith, and redemption), I tried to take the show for what it was, and actually ended up enjoying it more than I expected, thanks to the great musicians and singers that make up the performers on stage. I have to give them extra credit for including the haunting arrangement of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" that Cash sang toward the end of his life. Other really well-done numbers included "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Man in Black." The audience seemed uniquely filled with Cash fans, and certain songs inspired almost instantaneous clapping along in time to the music.

So if you go with low expectations, and just want to hear some great versions of Johnny Cash songs, you might enjoy this musical (if you want to call it that).

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