James Brown used to be known as the hardest working man in show business, but right now, that honor might go to Jens Kramer, the fiddler in the thoroughly enjoyable tribute to Johnny Cash called “Ring of Fire.”
He dances, he sings, he flirts with the audience, and he saws like Heifetz.
Sometimes he takes center stage and cuts loose, and at other times he subtly underscores a singer, like the superb Erin Parker, whose treatment of “All Over Again” is utterly affecting.
Either way, you’re mighty glad he’s in the house.
In two acts, this company of 16 showcases more than 30 songs that Cash sang, and, in some cases, wrote, and they’re so good at what they do, they aren’t afraid to open and close the show with Johnny’s voice itself coming over the loudspeaker.
No Johnny imitations here, just the briefest bit of biographical narration to provide a context for the songs performed by strong singers and musicians.
The big events of Cash’s life — childhood poverty, the loss of an older brother, his meeting with June Carter, his addictions and his temper, his patriotism, and his faith — are the hooks for familiar numbers like “Country Boy,” “Five Feet High and Rising,” “Cocaine Blues,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.”
This touring show was directed by Joe Calarco and choreographed by Karma Camp, both of whom have provided seamless transitions from one number to the next.
The cast moves fluidly around the stage, which is framed by two towers with steps and platforms, thus providing a couple of additional playing areas. The drum set is stage left, and musical director Nathan W. Perry conducts from the keyboard stage right. His fingers are fleet, his phrasing decisive.
Where to begin with favorites?
Well, I’ll start with “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart,” a delicious send-up of metaphor-laden country-western songs, with an “earnest” delivery by Julie Meirick undercut by the deadpan Della Mason-Stacy. Hysterical, and it comes just when the show needs a little comic relief.
Meirick and Steve Benoit score in “Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Jordan,” and Meirick and Scott Stacy play main squeezes who just can’t wait to make love in “While I’ve Got It On My Mind.”
Jeremy Snider shows his range with a raw rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues” and a word-perfect treatment of that amusing mouthful “A Boy Named Sue.”
The arrangement of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” features the spot-on harmonizing of Meirick, Parker, and Erica Cantrell.
The whole cast opens Act II with a high-energy “Hey Porter” and polishes off the revue with “I’ve Been Everywhere,” with everyone, including Mr. Kramer, strummin’ that old guitar.
If you like Cash, WGNA, and/or first-rate live musical talent, get to Proctors pronto.Ring of Fire
WHERE: The Mainstage at Proctors,
432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. today
HOW MUCH: $45-$20
MORE INFO: 346-6204
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Categories: Life and Arts