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'Ring of Fire' at Cap Rep is toe-tapping, ear-pleasing good time

'Ring of Fire' at Cap Rep is toe-tapping, ear-pleasing good time

This joyous production is a worthy opening to the 2018-2019 Cap Rep season
'Ring of Fire' at Cap Rep is toe-tapping, ear-pleasing good time
From left: Kurt Zischke, Erikka Walsh, Jacob Shipley, Bill Scott Sheets and Paul Wyatt in "Ring of Fire."
Photographer: Doug Liebig

ALBANY -- There are, perhaps, a few kinds of folks who will go to “Ring of Fire” at Capital Rep in the next month: die-hard Johnny Cash fans, country music followers in general, subscribers and a few of us there for other reasons. But everyone will come away from the show completely satisfied. 

I am guessing that the two women who stood and clapped and swayed (audience left) for much of Tuesday night’s opening are in the first group. And why not? In her curtain speech, director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill had told us to have a good time and be as rowdy as we wanted to be. Check!

Country music fans certainly get their money’s worth with about 90 minutes of Cash songs and a few by the likes of Kris Kristofferson and the Carter family, all performed by a sextet of strong singers, some of whom play more than one instrument throughout the night. Grand Ole Opry, indeed.

The rest of us? Ah, I learned once again how parochial my musical tastes are. I seldom seek out anything more than classical and the Broadway musical. But when I’m suddenly in the presence of another genre -- country, folk, jazz, gospel, rock -- I can get in a groove just a little less deep than the ones those two women were partying in. 

Yes, I tapped my feet. 

Yes, I smiled at the charming lyrics of “Straight A’s in Love” and “Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart.”

Yes, I marveled at the perfect blend and bend of harmonies in “In the Sweet By and By,” “The Far Side of Jordan,” and the hold-your-breath moments in “I Still Miss Someone,” with music director Josh D. Smith’s pining piano commentary on a lovers’ dialogue.

This musical revue, conceived and created by William Meade and Richard Maltby Jr., deftly handles the biographical material. Barry Steele’s projections on the read wall subtly establish the time period (Cash lived from hardscrabble beginnings in 1932 until 2003). The dramaturgical notes in the program are helpful. And the occasional commentary by performer Kurt Zischke, delivered clearly and emotionally, steers our thoughts through Cash’s travails and triumphs to just the right degree.

Because, in the end, it’s simply all about the music: 30 songs, including the well-known “I Walk the Line,” (brilliantly sung by Bill Scott Sheets and Erikka Walsh, who also plays a mean fiddle),“Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire.” Sheets’ extraordinary voice is the one that comes closest to Cash’s, but everybody in the cast owns John R.’s music.

Zischke scores on “Man in Black,” Cash’s song that could still be an anthem for today. Paul Wyatt stops the show with an achy-breaky treatment of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” And Troy’s own Jacob Shipley is the voice that melts in the mix of the company numbers.

Finally, the topnotch duo of Joe Barna (drums) and Patrick O’Connell (bass, fiddle) round out the cast.
Played on Steele’s hoedown-ready set (with choreography by Freddy Ramirez), with pinpoint lighting by Mike Riggs and bright costumes by Howard Tvsi Kaplan, Mancinelli-Cahill’s joyous production is a worthy opening to the 2018-2019 Cap Rep season, no matter your reason for being there.

'Ring of Fire'

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany

WHEN:  through Aug. 12

HOW MUCH: $69.50-$16

MORE INFO: 518. 445.7469, or capitalrep.org

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