FORT WORTH -- This production walks the line quite well.
Ring of Fire, a stage work at Casa Mañana based on the songs and life of Johnny Cash, offers a strong cast and an interesting structure as two of its leading assets.
Jason Edwards, Jeri Sager, Troy Burgess and Trenna Barnes portray Cash, wife June Carter Cash and others in various moments in their lives. Six additional onstage performers provide the music and occasionally join in on the vocals.
But rather than acting out scenes from Johnny Cash's life, the show rolls along from song to song while dropping in biographical tidbits to set the time and place in speeches made directly to the audience. This somewhat abstract structure leaves little room for details, but it does give a seamless flow to this show "created by" Richard Maltby Jr. and directed by Edwards.
So Ring is much more concert than biographical drama. But that is just fine because the production takes such good care of its musical chores.
Edwards does not sound like Cash, but his rich bass-baritone feels right for the role. Burgess does especially well with the rockabilly numbers. And Sager and Barnes are outstanding separately and together.
There is also strong supporting work. The most entertaining member of the universally talented cast may be Brantley Kearns, a multitasker who is impressive with his fiddle playing, vocals and deft comic touch. And one of the best musical contributions is provided by Brent Moyer, who puts down his guitar just long enough to deliver a dynamite trumpet part in the show's title tune.
The show succeeds partly because it nails the big hits, like Ring of Fire. Also receiving exceptional treatments are Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue and Jackson.
Visually, it is a simple production played on a simple set of facades of an old shack and a barn. Edwards' best directorial touch is in his staging of Going to Memphis, a chain gang number that employs clever blocking and highly evocative sound effects.
The only thing that does not work in this production is the projections, which are often difficult to make out on the slats suggesting the barn.
But the music is what matters here. And this cast makes the songs fit as easily and naturally as a black coat did on its subject.