Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s latest foray into a summer concert series doesn’t rate any stars with me – but I give it 4 WOWs.
In a way, it picks up the thread from Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s smash finale to its 2016-17 season of “Million Dollar Quartet,” a re-imagination of that once-in-a-lifetime jam session of the early 1950s at Nashville’s storied Sun Records. A recording was made of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis playing together for the only time.
Theatre Artistic Director Robert Farley had enjoyed success the last two summers bringing back his ultra-successful “John Denver: Almost Heaven” anthology of the singer’s life through his music for summer concerts at the Chattahoochee Nature Center’s intimate outdoor amphitheater.
“We were thinking of what we could do next that would be different and it hit me. All these talented folks are around and it fell into place almost like we had it planned all along,” Farley said.
It is an intimate crowd at the Nature Center with the crickets chirping and frogs joining the chorus. People bring chairs or sit at the tables under the covered portion. It is a Chastain-like atmosphere (except no BYOB, but wine and beer is available).
That is all to the good. But that is only the setting. Farley has indeed assembled a talented cast that sings in beautiful harmony and plays a welter of instruments – Kent’s wailing guitar, fiddle, upright bass, a bluesy harmonica, zither, mandolin, organ and mouth harp. If I left one out forgive me.
Chris Diamano is the most Cash-like artist on stage. He has the look, the demeanor and the rich bass voice. But it is by no means a one-man-gig with sidemen.
Scott DePoy is an Atlanta actor-musician I have enjoyed, lo these past 30 years going back to the Theatrical Outfit, along with his brother Phillip DePoy. Scott DePoy’s rich voice and amazing violin (excuse me, fiddlin’) brings to mind how, as Cash got older, he mellowed like fine wine.
So has DePoy. His rendition of “Man in Black” tells you about as much about Cash the man as you need ever know.
Laura Lindahl and Mark Schroeder – like DePoy – are crossovers from the John Denver tribute. They and ‘Million Dollar” cast member Christopher Kent are all talented musicians. I lost count of who was playing what instrument, but they seemed as interchangeable as checkers on a checkerboard.
As anyone who followed Johnny Cash’s career must know, his life is told through the songs he wrote and the songs he performed. And by inexact count there are some 30 songs that are stitched together to tell his life.
He grew up chopping cotton on his daddy’s farm and learned to sing as a child (“Daddy Sang Bass, Momma Sang Tenor”) and it never left him.
So “Ring of Fire” is a breezy, sometimes dark, journey through the life and times of Johnny Cash.
As for The Man in Black’s music, well it touches everyone somewhere, sometime.
He can turn a lyric on its head. He can take you places you’ve never been (“I’ve Been Everywhere Man”) to places you never want to go (“I’m Going to Memphis”).
In “Folsom Prison Blues” he tells why he’s in for life, and it’s the coldest lyric in country music: “I shot a man in Reno just watch him die.”
That is pure Johnny Cash. His songs tell it like it is as only he could. “Ragged Old Flag” makes you want to stand and salute everybody.
Or how about “I’m Going to Jackson.” With June Carter Cash, they wrote about as feisty a duet that’s ever been.
It starts out, “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout. I’ve been talkin’ about Jackson, ever since the fire went out.” You can just see the sparks fly.
It is a wild ride down at the Nature Center. But then why shouldn’t it be? That man in black, he’s been everywhere, man.