It’s a show worthy of the Man in Black.
The 10-member cast of the Eldorado’s “Ring of Fire: The Songs of Johnny Cash” not only sings but plays instruments; and not just guitars and drums but cellos and beyond. The trumpet is necessary, as there would be no authentic intro to the title song without it. As for things that go plunk like ukuleles, fiddles and mandolins ... the only thing missing from “Ring” is Mother Maybelle Carter’s autoharp.
As the Reno production’s subtitle makes clear, the show is a tribute, not an impersonation. This is welcome in a world that’s seen more than a few two-bit Michael and Elvis imposters.
However, “Ring” is more than a parade of hits. It’s lively and creative journey through the career of the artist who would become a preeminent American musician and a country legend. Long before that, however, he was a rockabilly singer, and the show does not ignore those beginnings, including a healthy dose of songs from his gospel and backwoods roots.
There are delightful and unexpected inclusions. When one hears June Carter’s “Flushed from the Bathroom of My Heart,” there is no doubt why Cash fell for her. The quick-patter song “I’ve Been Everywhere” becomes faster and faster as all 10 cast members join in the rapid-fire litany of place names. And the chain gang of “Orleans Parish Prison” is recreated, the song morphing into “Folsom Prison Blues” (the lyric “I shot a man in Reno,” of course, bringing cheers).
There’s not a lot from the later years when Cash pushed the envelope even further, like when he covered Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” but “Delia’s Gone” gives glimpse enough into the dark side (“If I hadn’t shot poor Delia, I’d have had her for my wife”).
The 30-song show never drops its energy, with cast members moving around a set resembling a back porch. A few bits of dialogue, pulled from his autobiography (Cash approved of this show before his death in 2003) are included.
Cash could not have asked for a better celebration of his music or one closer to the spirit of his live shows. (8 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturdays; $27.45, $34.05, $39.50, $45.05; Through May 4; eldoradoreno.com)