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Infinity shows its affinity for musical biography in tuneful 'Ring of Fire'

Infinity Theatre Company begins its sixth full summer season in Annapolis with a show that expands upon the company's reputation for elevating the jukebox musical to riveting theater.

"Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash," opening June 6, promises to be a compelling evening of musical theater focusing on the life and inspiration of this unique country music artist.

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"It's not just the music of Johnny Cash, it's the story of Cash as the everyman, treading the line between the soul and the body in 20th-century America," said Alan Ostroff, co-producer and artistic director.

The show stars a duo that Ostroff describes as a "young theater power couple" — Ben Hope and Katie Barton, as Johnny and June Cash. Married in March, Hope and Barton seem delighted to be appearing together in this show.

Hope has been seen as the lead from the original cast of the Broadway musical "Once," playing the role of Guy. An accomplished musician and self-taught guitarist, he has written songs and become a much-sought-after actor. Ostroff notes that Hope taps his vocal artistry to "deliver solid performances telling unforgettable stories."

Barton recently finished a national tour of the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet," and has won critical praise for her recent portrayal in Connecticut theater of country singer Tammy Wynette in "Stand By Your Man." In that show, Barton delivered several duets with Hope as George Jones, a country music legend and one of Wynette's five husbands.

In "Ring of Fire," this dynamic duo deliver songs that defined Cash's career and focus on his love for singer June Carter Cash, facing highs and lows together while dealing with the themes of sin and redemption.

The show runs June 6-28.

Infinity's rise in Annapolis began with its first production in 2010 of the Broadway classic "The Fantasticks," starring the troupe's own power couple, Anna and Alan Ostroff. In many ways, this team has set the stage for Infinity's foundation in musical theater.

The following season, as founders and producing artistic directors, the Ostroffs brought two winning productions for the fledgling company's first full season — "My Way," a Sinatra tribute in which both starred, and "Little Shop of Horrors," starring carnivorous Broadway plant Audrey II and a fabulous human cast.

By 2011, local audiences had embraced the Broadway-caliber shows being offered in Annapolis, as the Ostroff team displayed their talents as performers and savvy young producers.

Subsequent seasons have enhanced the company's reputation for polished perfection in new and revisited classic musicals.

Two shows in particular showed Infinity's knack for elevating the jukebox musical to compelling musical biographical drama: "Always …. Patsy Cline" in 2013 "Hank Williams: Lost Highway" in 2014.

Jenny Lee Stern excelled in the title role of the Patsy Cline story, while Jason Petty seemed to channel Hank Williams in that stellar production.

Like the Ostroffs, these shows have paved the way for "Johnny Cash," solidifying Infinity's niche and its place in the Annapolis theater scene.

After Johnny and June Cash enjoy their run, Infinity's second show of the season will be "Baby," about three couples of different generations and circumstances, each expecting a new child.

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"This is one of our favorite hidden gems of Broadway," said Alan Ostroff, "written by the famous team of Richard Malby ["Miss Saigon"] and David Shire ["Big: The Musical"]. It's full of moments with which any couple can identify who've been pregnant, or almost pregnant.

"It has so much humor and warmth and, most importantly, a catchy pop score full of power ballads from the 1980s that will feel very familiar and touch the heart."

'Baby" is scheduled to run July 11 to Aug. 2.

Infinity's season again includes a children's show, a staple that Alan Ostroff said reflects "our mission of bringing professional New York City theater to the community's young families."

Here Ostroff serves as author of book and lyrics of the 50-minute musical, a first-time original piece, with Clayton Colwell creating the music. The story, "Jack vs. Rapunzel," builds on the famous stories of these two fairy tale characters, who compete in various contests.

Described as part fairy tale, part reality TV and "all fun," the show stresses the power of the individual.

The children's production runs Saturdays, June 20 to Aug. 1, at 11 a.m. at Anne Arundel Community College's Humanities Building Theater, Room 112. For tickets, go to infinitytheatrecompany.com — a 10 percent discount is available for sales before prior to June 1.

For the productions of "Johnny Cash" and "Baby," held at the theater at 1661 Bayhead Road in Annapolis, individual tickets and a season subscription may be ordered at the website or by calling 877-501-8499. Season subscribers also receive discounts at partner businesses.

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