WESTON, Vt. – Weston Playhouse’s “Ring of Fire” proves itself as another triumph of the 2021 season, combining a simple unchanging set, small and dynamic musical cast, and an entrance and exit that takes full advantage of the unique open-sided large tent that has become Weston’s Playhouse’s 2021 home at their Walker Farm location this year.
With brilliant direction from show director Susanna Gellert, who is also the Weston Playhouse artistic director, the cast captivates the audience from the onset. The audience is seated in front of a deserted classic roadhouse stage complete with piano on one side, drums and an upright base on the other, and a smattering of guitars, banjo, and stringed instruments hung on back wall. From beyond the open-sided tent, a white pickup truck roars up the driveway with singers standing up in the back as we all hear whooping and singing of a toe-tapping country tune. The truck stops quickly and the six actors rush on stage still singing while reaching for their instruments.
Since it was clear that “Ring of Fire” was a celebration of the music of Johnny Cash, initial confusion turned to intrigue and delight when it became clear that the younger actor Seth Eliser and older Larry Tobias were both playing the Johnny Cash role, highlighting different times and stories of his past and music. Eliser’s voice captured the deep sonorous gravel of Cash’s signature voice and Tobias, the more skilled musician, portrayed the hard-driving musicianship and Cash’s grit, looking back on hard lessons learned. Tobias also played Cash’s father.
Actresses Megumi Nakamura and Dorothy Stanley also played two ages of the June Carter role, younger and older respectively, as Cash’s second wife and a musical icon in her own right from a long performing musical family. Nakamura beautifully portrayed the spunk and humor of the younger Carter, as well as a small turn as Cash’s first wife. Stanley was the perfect steady counterpoint to Tobias’ older Cash, with their chemistry epitomizing the Cash–Carter love story perhaps more sweetly than their younger versions. She also plays a small role as Cash’s mother.
The other two actors, Jacob Brandt and Michael Hicks, both proved excellent musicians, and are the embodiment of Cash’s early band members Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant. Their musicianship, along with Tobias, was the backbone of the music throughout the show – although all the actors rotated through various instruments, some with more skill and volume, than others. The constant shifting between instruments added to the celebratory and down-home hootenanny feel of the music, a reflection of Cash and Carter’s all-encompassing musical life.
Most key points in Cash’s story were introduced in just a few lines either in soliloquy or between a few actors with the music driving through the highlights of his life. Cash music fans are not disappointed with over two dozen Cash hits, including “I Walk the Line,” “Fulton Prison Blues,” “Jackson,” “Angel Band,” and “Cry, Cry, Cry.” “Ring of Fire,” written by June Carter, is also an expected and welcome highlight.
At the performance end, the cast leave as dramatically as they arrived, rushing off the stage, piling into the white pickup, and singing their way off to their next gig.
“Ring of Fire” performances run from Aug. 11 through Sept. 5. Performances are currently sold out but the Box Office is maintaining a waitlist and can be reached at 802-824-5288.
Two-and three-show subscriptions and single tickets are available online and by calling the Weston Box Office at 802-824-5288. Gift cards can be purchased online at www.westonplayhouse.org.