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DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]

The songs of the late great Johnny Cash come to life on the stage of Sawyer Theatre at Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building through July 16, 2016. This musical tribute to the man in black was created by Richard Maltby, Jr. and conceived by William Meade.

This musical revue has 32 songs that were associated with Johnny Cash, who passed away in 2003 at the age of 71. Cash was a multi-talented performer who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and The Gospel Music Hall of Fame (2010). During the course of the evening, we enjoyed traditional country songs, as well as rock and roll, blues, and gospel.

While the show is primarily a revue of his music, many references to the life experiences and events that influenced his music, such as the poverty of his early childhood and his two marriages, are included. Still, don’t expect too much biography — “Ring of Fire” is about music, music, and more music.

In the beginning, the seven performers in the cast introduce themselves individually with Cash’s traditional greeting —“I’m Johnny Cash!” While none of the seven tries to impersonate the great Cash, cast member Peyton Grim, who has a mean bass voice, and had several solos, certainly could easily have done so.

Country Boy by Paul Leavy“Ring of Fire” gave each participant the opportunity to show off their talents, especially their vocal talents. We discovered their skills were many as various instruments, which included a trumpet, piano, and guitars, were played by different singers from time to time.

Some of the famous Cash songs included were “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” “Jackson,” and of course, “Ring of Fire.” The rendition of “Five Feet High and Rising” had a poignant relevance, as we had seen televised reports of West Virginia flooding earlier, and were moved by this song.

Megan Wheeler, a VSU graduate, has spent the past five years as a performer in New York and has also appeared in leading roles at PSST! For one brief scene, when she and Cash first met, she appeared as June Carter, while Peyton Grim took on the role of Cash.

Olin Davidson, Ashlee Dutson, Alejandro Gutierrez, Heather McCall, and Chance Wall all had dynamic solos, and also sang as a chorus. All the performers displayed a powerful command of movement, words, and music. Director Hank Rion has put together a fantastic cast to bring the genius of Cash to audiences.

The stage had a rustic look, with an old wooden porch and chair on left, and an upright piano on the right. Behind the seven performers was an excellent county band of five musicians. Scenic designer Ruth Brandvik enhanced the experience with wall to ceiling projections of important places in Cash’s life, which included the home and farmland of his childhood.

“Ring of Fire” will continue on July 1, 6-7, 9, 13, and 16. For additional information about all three PSST! musicals offered during the 2016 season, visit


About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.