Curt Wollan, executive producer and director of the Troupe America Inc. production of “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash,” has made a lot of changes to the jukebox musical. The show, on stage Sept. 11 at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, opened on Broadway in 2006.
“It didn’t do well on Broadway, and it was because they had kind of New York-ized it a bit too much,” Wollan said. “It was an odd, strange, very sexual thing. They’re all just kind of grinding with each other and making out. Johnny Cash never made out with anyone on stage. The Johnny Cash fans hated it.”
In preparation for its recent run at the Plymouth Playhouse, Wollan pared the cast down from 15 performers to eight and revamped it so that it included a bit more story from Cash’s life. Wollan said the 18-week run at Plymouth was slow at first but “when it picked up, it really went strong,” he said.
The tribute to the Man in Black contains about 30 songs — from lesser-known earlier ones like “Country Boy” and “Straight A’s in Love” to classics like “Jackson.” They recently restructured the show, said Wollan, to take it on the road for a national tour, and it now captures Cash’s life chronologically — his youth, rise to fame, the dark years and redemption. The play focuses quite a bit on how Cash’s life informed his songs, and Wollan feels the singer’s life story has contributed to his mass appeal.
It shows “there’s hope for everybody,” Wollan said. “I think that’s why he’s so popular. Old people love him. Hipsters love him.”
“Ring of Fire” is the first of the arts center’s Angel Fund performance series, which will include magic, music, comedy, and electroluminescent full-body puppetry.
“Broadway Boys: A Lullaby of Broadway” (Sept. 20) is boy band meets show tunes, six young male vocalists who use vocal pyrotechnics to give a contemporary feel to classic songs from musicals like “42nd Street” and “Wicked.”
There’s a lull in the series until Jan. 9, when the ever-popular Church Basement Ladies appear on stage. Fourth in the series of plays, “A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement,” set in 1958, combines crazy high jinks, songs and jokes about Jell-O and all things Midwestern.
On March 14, in “Lightwire: The Show,” performers from Lightwire Theater don their electroluminescent costumes and use full-body puppetry to create glowing, kid-friendly dance and storytelling on a dark stage.
“1964: The Tribute” is March 15. Hailed by “Rolling Stone” as the “Best Beatles Tribute on Earth,” the show recreates an early ’60s Beatles concert — with musicians sporting period clothing and hairstyles and playing vintage instruments.
Spencers Theater of Illusion, recently named International Magicians of the Year by the International Magicians Society, returns to town on March 20. According to Brian Luther, executive director at the arts center, illusionist Kevin Spencer makes a habit of visiting local schools while he is in town to talk with students.
This is the third year for the Angel Fund series, which matches private donations dollar for dollar with city funds. According to Luther, prior to this, the performing arts center was functioning primarily as a rental house, but the fund has given them a chance to bid on shows.
“Sometimes,” he said, “some opportunities come up real fast, and then they go away real fast. It gives us a chance to go after a show and put in an offer.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.