Magazine article Newsweek

Cashing in on a Legend; the Man in Black Comes to the Great White Way

Magazine article Newsweek

Cashing in on a Legend; the Man in Black Comes to the Great White Way

Article excerpt

Byline: Lorraine Ali

Did you ever think the rebel angel of country music would make it to Broadway? Believe it or not, the day has come: "Ring of Fire," a show dedicated to the work of the legendary singer Johnny Cash, opens this week. It consists of 38 songs, 14 performers and more smiles than Cash exhibited over his entire lifetime. Created by Tony winner Richard Maltby Jr. (who did "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Fosse"), the show spans Cash's career, from 1957's "Country Boy" to 2002's "The Man Comes Around." "Ring of Fire" is the latest in a series of mostly doomed efforts to pull off a successful jukebox musical. The Abba-based "Mamma Mia!" is still making money, but the songs were originally contrived with glittering synchronized dance moves in mind. Musicals based on the material of more substantial and influential artists--Elvis, the Beach Boys, John Lennon--have failed big time. So why even try bringing the Man in Black to the Great White Way?

Probably because Cash was a great storyteller whose amazing body of work was just too good to pass up. (After all, didn't Hollywood get away with "Walk the Line"?) "Ring of Fire" had Cash's own blessing--he gave Maltby the stage rights to his material just before he died in 2003. But the show, which doesn't follow a single story line but presents each song in a separate vignette, has one major problem: the performers aren't Johnny Cash. They're clean-cut, they sing in tune and they project most numbers with "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" zeal. But when Cash sings "Ring of Fire," it's spooky, dark, forbidden. …

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