From Prison Story to Love Story
For Johnny Cash and June Carter fans there is a wonderful musical in store for you at Playhouse II in Grand Bend. And even if you are not a Cash/Carter fan or you don’t like country music, this tribute show offers solid entertainment.
Director Chris McHarge has polished up the show since I first saw it in London in November 2010. The videos shown are better quality and the sound is improved over London City Music Theatre. The entire production moved along at a faster pace.
The first act covers Johnny Cash’s famous visit to Folsom Prison in 1968. He had written the song Folsom Prison Blues in the ‘50s, and had always wanted to perform for the inmates in the very tough prison. As the show opens we hear the original sound track of Johnny being introduced in the prison. Two big screens over the stage show old black and white footage of that memorable concert behind bars. Each song is illustrated on screen, some with rather odd animation, but nonetheless interesting.
The lineup of songs can be described as depressing, but Cash knew that these songs would speak to the prisoners. Songs such as “Busted”, “Cocaine Blues” and “25 Minutes to go” (about a murderer being hanged in the prison yard) are lightened up by a pair of somewhat amusing songs: “Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog” and “Flushed from the Bathroom of your Heart”. Favourites like “Orange Blossom Special” and “Green Green Grass of Home” are crowd-pleasers.
Act I closes with the old 1968 sound track, the warden giving the prisoners direct orders about how to leave the concert and get back to their cells. Audience members enjoy a laugh as they file out of the theatre for intermission.
Act II goes further back in time, with June Carter narrating some of Johnny’s history – we even see an elementary school photo on the big screen. Their courtship (she was reluctant at first but he pursued her on stage in front of live audiences) and his struggle with addictions are explained.
Familiar numbers in Act II include “Walk the Line”, “Ring of Fire” and “A Boy Named Sue”. My personal favourite is the duet with Johnny and June singing Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. A gospel set including “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, “Daddy Sang Bass” and “Peace in the Valley” is popular with the audience.
Aaron Solomon is excellent as Johnny Cash – he has the strong, deep voice, the posture, the mannerisms, and the nervous speaking habits down pat. He plays the guitar very well, backed by the band including musical director Colin Stewart on bass, Chris Norley on guitar and Ted Peacock on drums.
Colleen Aynn presents June Carter’s sound perfectly, and she especially shines when she has the opportunity to show her rich bluesy-jazz voice.
Grand Bend’s opening night audience, many of whom had travelled from London, loved the story of Johnny’s on-stage proposal to June in London, Ontario at the London Gardens in 1968.
Together, Solomon and Aynn bring the house down when they reprise Jackson as the show’s conclusion. They have the chemistry – you believe them when they say “We got married in a fever”.
Johnny and June continues with eight shows a week until September 1 at Huron Country Playhouse, Playhouse II, Grand Bend. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office: 519-238-6000 or Toll Free 1-855-372-9866, or check www.huroncountryplayhouse.com
Johnny and June
Created by Chris McHarge & Colin Stewart
Directed by Chris McHarge
Musical direction by Colin Stewart
Performed by Aaron Solomon and Colleen Aynn
Playhouse II, Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
August 15 to September 1, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson