Husband and wife team burn up Infinity stage in 'Ring of Fire'

For The Baltimore Sun

In "Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash," Infinity Theatre Company opens its sixth season with the winning musical biography of a major 20th-century American singer-songwriter.

Fulfilling its mission to provide professional theater in Annapolis with increasingly polished shows, Infinity will follow it in July with a hidden Broadway gem, "Baby," about three couples who are expecting a child.

In "Ring of Fire," Infinity founders and co-producing artistic directors Anna Roberts Ostroff and Alan Ostroff have cast as leads a young theater power couple — Ben Hope as Johnny Cash and wife Katie Barton as June Carter Cash. Amy Jones serves as director and musical director.

This show, created by Richard Maltby in 2006 and later revised by him, will certainly please Cash's legions of fans — and will create new fans who discover him here.

The music instantly pulls us into Cash's story. Through song, we learn of his boyhood efforts to join in the hard work on his family's farm. The labor finally bears fruit as the family grows a cotton crop — just as floods arrive. This story is recounted in the family song, "Five Feet High and Rising," which tells how floods destroyed their crops, but not their spirit or their hope for a better life.

In Infinity's production we discover how remarkably well a life story can be told through music. Cash's tale is one of an ordinary country boy who knew poverty and exhausting labor before discovering and developing his extraordinary musical talent. He eventually grows to headliner status, yet retains a great capacity for love and strong faith.

Heading Infinity's production as Johnny Cash, Hope meets all acting and singing requirements, with the added attraction of good looks and ingratiating charm, and enough insight to avoid imitating Cash while evoking his presence.

Strong in all 18 songs he tackles, Hope is especially powerful in "Five Feet High and Rising," and in "Ring of Fire." He's equally impressive in the rollicking "Jackson" and the notable "I Walk the Line," and is exemplary in other of Cash's signature songs, including "Man in Black," "Folsom Prison Blues" and "If I Were a Carpenter."

"A Boy Named Sue" completes his bravura performance.

The lovely Katie Barton becomes June Carter Cash, radiant as she accepts Johnny's on-stage marriage proposal, conveying her abiding passion for Johnny along with her strong determination to help him overcome a drug addiction. Barton also displays her vocal artistry in every heartfelt duet.

Playing Johnny's mother is another rising Broadway star, Lori Eure, who reveals substantial vocal artistry in "Cry, Cry, Cry" and adds substance to a compelling "Flesh and Blood" trio.

Contributing substantially are Silas Moores and Spiff Wiegand, who are appealing singers and talented musicians capable of playing multiple instruments — Wiegand lists more than 20 in his resume. Together the musicians, including percussionist Chris Karabales, deliver an evening of extraordinary entertainment.

Infinity Theatre is located at 1661 Bay Head Road, Annapolis. For tickets, call the box office at 877-501-8499 or go to infinitytheatrecompany.com.

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