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"The Man in Black" Comes to FST

October 20, 2022

This summer, FST is proud to bring audiences Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, a raw and rousing musical biography celebrating the life and songbook of Johnny Cash. Called “A show that should not and cannot be missed” by Showbiz Chicago, Ring of Fire features over two dozen of Johnny Cash’s biggest hits, from “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues” to “Country Boy” and “A Boy Named Sue.”

From Cash’s humble beginnings picking cotton on his family’s farm in Arkansas to finding redemption through love and family, Ring of Fire tells Cash’s life story with the strength, humor, and authenticity that made him a legend.

“Cash’s music had this unique ability to lift people up and connect with everyday, working-class people,” said Richard Hopkins, FST’s Producing Artistic Director. “Ring of Fire does a great job of getting to the core of who Johnny Cash was. It celebrates his contributions to American music and his achievements, but it also doesn’t avoid the warts of his life.”

Born in the middle of the Great Depression, Cash’s rough-and-tumble young life inspired him to value family, the earth, faith, and truth—all ideas that would permeate his 50-year musical career. He grew up listening to gospel music and radio, beginning to write songs at the young age of 12.

“Johnny’s music and life are compelling,” said Eric Scott Anthony, the show’s Music Director, also a cast member. “His life story is a quintessential American rags-to-riches tale. It’s relatable and uplifting.”

After a four-year stretch in the Air Force, Cash moved to Memphis, TN: the “birthplace of Rock & Roll.” He finally broke onto the music scene in 1955, when he secured a recording contract with Sun Records—the same label that “discovered” artists like B.B. King, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins. Cash’s first two recordings for the company—“Hey Porter!” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”—topped the charts, and over the next five decades, he would become one of the best-selling musicians of all time.

“Johnny Cash’s work resonates with audiences across decades and generations because of the artistry that exists in his music,” said Ben Hope, the show’s director. “Johnny was an incredible writer and performer. His material spans a huge spectrum of ideas: romance, humor, drama, intrigue, spirituality, revelry, family, isolation, justice, love…the list goes on. His catalogue offers something for everyone.”

With a cast of five actor-musicians playing their own instruments, FST’s production of Ring of Fire gives audiences an intimate look at Cash’s tumultuous life and highlights how music sustained him through all his ups and downs.

“Because of the nature of Cash’s work, Ring of Fire requires a creative team to interpret many of the storytelling elements in their own way,” said Anthony, who has previously been seen in FST Cabarets, including Kings of Country (2015) and Yesterday (2016). “His music is definitely the center of the show, but I think we have created a story that is clear, compelling, and beautiful.”

And the musical doesn’t forget about the powerful love story between Johnny and June Carter. Despite personal challenges, unhappy first marriages, and obstacles presented by the music industry, Cash and Carter managed to forge a relationship that withstood it all. They performed together for almost a decade and shared two Grammy Awards (in addition to their individual awards). From 1969-1971, the couple hosted The Johnny Cash Show, a television variety show that featured musical guests like Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson.

“The relationship between Johnny and June is an inspiration,” said Ben Hope, who, himself, has been in about ten productions of Ring of Fire. “We try to highlight the strength and beauty of their love in this production. The actor playing Johnny has played Cash in more than 3,000 performances. The actress playing June has a depth and care for June that highlights Carter’s strength and character perfectly.”

Called “A good time for any fan of Johnny Cash or any fan of great music” by Maryland Theatre Guide, Ring of Fire is a musical tale of love, faith, struggle, and redemption in honor of the one-and-only Johnny Cash.