3 Ring of Fire cast members share insights


By Melissa Vach

Arts and Entertainment Editor   


     Alongside a 50-foot semi filled with audio, lighting and stage equipment, the Ring of Fire: The Life and Music of Johnny Cash musical consists of 32 songs, an eight-person cast and a four-person production crew. The original Broadway cast alone was sixteen.

The difference in numbers comes down to the musicians and actors becoming one-and-the-same. “It’s the first comment we hear,” Chad Willow said.

Willow, the music director and tour manager, spoke in a pre-show speech with two other cast members to a group of 40 La Crosse community members at the Viterbo University Fine Arts Center Dance Studio on Sept. 12. 

Because of the dual actor-musician roles, numerous instrument changes take place onstage. “It’s a version of choreography,” Willow said, adding that “it’s the longest part of rehearsal” trying to get the instrument changes figured out.

Chad Wollan, another musician for the show, said that the Ring of Fire tour would last ten weeks, with shows every night. Wollan lived in Tennessee for seven years working at Dollywood before he joined with Rosen and Willow for Ring of Fire.

The stop in La Crosse was just the second for the tour. The entire tour will play through thirty-five states and fifty-two cities. While many of their shows are single-nights, their upcoming trip to Folsom, Calif. will consist of five shows in three days.

While the cast is already enthusiastic about their current tour, they are excited for changes that will come in the future; in particular, an expanded set. However, for the present moment they would be satisfied making it clear that Ring of Fire is not an impersonation show.

“Ring of Fire was written by Richard Maltby Jr. in close association with Johnny Cash,” Chad Willow said.

“In the original script, there is very little storyline, because Johnny Cash wanted it to be about music, not about his life. He wanted it to be a celebration of life.”

The three actor-musicians seemed to agree that their favorite part of the show is the “Dark Years” section. For fiddler Amberly Rosen, “Going to Memphis” is a particular favorite, a song where she also gets to play string bass. “I love the tune. There are some really tight harmonies.”

Rosen studied violin at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and has recently released an album titled Fiddly. At the audience’s request, Rosen played a tune on her violin titled “Tom and Jerry.” After she finished and received applause, she admitted with a smile that “two seconds in I realized it started with a different chord,” so she had actually switched songs unnoticed and played “Leather Riches” instead.


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