“Ring of Fire” at The Rep is beautifully crafted

“Ring of Fire” at The Rep is beautifully crafted

Capital Repertory Theatre knows its audiences, and after last summer’s success with Mamma Mia!in the summer slot, wisely chose another jukebox musical to open its 2018-19 season; in these warmer months, people appreciate fun shows with music they’re familiar with, and Ring of Fire, with the music of universally beloved American icon Johnny Cash, answers the call.

The show, directed by theREP’s producing artistic director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, stars five main actors/singers/musicians (Bill Scott Sheets, Jacob Shipley, Erikka Walsh, Paul Wyatt and Kurt Zischke) and three musicians (Josh D. Smith, Joe Barna and Patrick O’Connell – Smith and O’Connell have roles in some of the songs as well) and forms a vague timeline of Cash’s life, from his childhood on his parents’ cotton farm to his success in the music business and his partnership – both musical and romantic – with June Carter. As the performers progress through the songs, they sometimes insert tidbits of what was going on in Cash’s life at the time; costumes (eye-catching and easily designed for quick changes by Howard Tvsi Kaplan) and projections on the set walls (both set and projections well-designed by Barry Steele) help with setting the scene.

The group Mancinelli-Cahill has chosen for the production work seamlessly together; their harmonies are gorgeous, and they truly seem to be having such fun on the stage – something that transfers easily to the audience, who were clapping, whooping and stomping their feet along with the music almost from the beginning. Sheets and Zischke have Cash’s signature bass growl down pat; Sheets could easily be a young Cash with Zischke his older incarnation. Sheets’ work on “Ring of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line” is phenomenal, while Zischke channels a sadder, wiser Cash in “Man in Black” and brings of all Shel Silverstein’s playfulness to life in his rendition of “A Boy Named Sue.” His duet with Walsh on “While I’ve Got It on My Mind” generates genuine passion onstage. Walsh is electric; she slips in and out of character effortlessly and her energy and joy onstage is so much fun to watch. Her “I Still Miss Someone” is heartwrenching; “Flushed from the Bathroom of Your Heart” is hilarious and you can almost see June Carter onstage in her actions; and her “If I Were a Carpenter” with Wyatt is heartfelt and lovely. Wyatt, Shipley and Sheets’ work in “Dirty Ol’ Egg-Suckin’ Dog” is a highlight, as is Wyatt’s deep, musing “Sunday Morning, Coming Down.” Smith, who we are lucky enough to have grace a number of Capital District stages, mans the piano and plays enough additional instruments that, yet again, he utterly amazed me.

If you’re looking for something deep and philosophical – or even something with a through storyline – this won’t be the show for you; this is a musical only in the loosest of senses, more of a concert, really. However, if you’re looking for something beautifully crafted, something that will make you leave grinning from ear to ear – theREP’s the place to be this summer.


“Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash”; Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany; through August 12; $69.50 – $32; Run time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 445-7469;

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