Main | Saturday, February 25, 2006

Look At Them Beans!

Last night, Aaron and I scored a couple of free tickets to Ring Of Fire, the Johnny Cash musical presently in previews at Broadway's elegant Ethel Barrymore Theatre. We started the evening with cocktails at Therapy, followed by dinner at Vynl, then the show. End to end it was a completely homosexual evening. Oh, except for the part where we attended a musical review of 50 years of country music with a largely septuagenarian crowd.

Aaron didn't think the crowd seemed all that old and I guess the elderly do make up a large chunk of the Broadway audience these days, what with all these "greatest hits of yesteryear" musicals all over the place. We were particularly entertained by the old lady in front of us with an enormous jet-black B-52, equally enormous diamond earrings, and a very hot young Latino "walker". They were cute together. How do you get those walker jobs, anyhow? Hanging out at bingo?

I've been a huge fan of Johnny Cash for several decades, and the show opened very promisingly, with a stark stage and a gorgeously foreboding rendition of Cash's final hit, his tortured cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", the video for which has never failed to bring tears to my eyes. But after that, the cheese began to fly. There is no orchestra pit, the band is part of the show and playing musicians are almost always on stage. That's because there's no book for Ring Of Fire, no plot whatsoever. There's no set either. This show is just a big concert review of Cash's hits, staged around a very, very cool set of rear projection screens that variously depict the farmhouses, farmland, prisons, train stations, and honky tonks that are the Cash oeuvre.

The reviews of this show have pretty much been universally poor, and while I'll agree that the corniness of a lot of material (you have to live through a number called "Look At Them Beans!" to know what I mean) made the show feel more like a Branson, MO review than Broadway show, I thought the cast was terrific and delivered the material without a hint of the winking, hipster, "Aren't we being ironic?" mindset you might expect. What do I know from Broadway, anyway? Still, Ring Of Fire may leave you reminded of the following: Up With People, Kids Of The Kingdom, The Six Flags Players.

I noticed a few members of the audience fleeing during the first act, and the row behind us cleared out at intermission, but overall the audience seemed to have a great time. I enjoyed myself too, but remember, I got in free. If I had paid $101.25, I might have a different opinion. I guess the question is whether the Broadway audience will mind paying that much for a show with no stiltwalkers, no stars, no flying monkeys, just great classic country music performed by a sterling group of musicians and singers. I have my doubts. Ring Of Fire officially opens March 12.

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