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Medora shines light on Johnny Cash with special Broadway musical

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, “Ring of Fire” premiered on the stage of the Old Town Hall Theater in Medora, telling the story of music legend Johnny Cash.

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The cast of "Ring of Fire" perform on stage at the Old Town Hall Theater in Medora. The show kicked off on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and will continue through Oct. 10. (Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation)
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Intertwined with rich gospel melodies and boom-chuck beats such as “Folsom Prison Blues,” an ensemble of six performers brought the life of Johnny Cash to the bright lights and old stage in the premiere performance of “Ring of Fire,” Wednesday in Medora.

The Broadway musical made its way to the Western Edge, where a schedule of nearly a month-long series of showings is expected to shed light on the man in black. “ Ring of Fire ” will continue through Oct. 10, with live performances at 7:30 p.m. MDT each day from Wednesday to Saturday, and with a special 2 p.m. MDT on Sundays at the Old Town Hall Theater in Medora.

Actor Dorian Chalmers noted in an interview with The Press before opening night, that not many people understand all of the struggles and trials Johnny Cash went through in his life.

“I think a lot of it is his honesty about his life because we’re telling his story through his songs… He’s being really honest about what he’s done and what he’s experienced in his life through his music, so I think that’s why his songs touch people because they identify with that honesty,” Chalmers said.

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During the production of "Ring of Fire" in Medora, Dorian Chalmers plays the part of Minnie Pearl, who appeared on the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. (Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation)

Throughout the theatrical production, the cast reveals how the musical legend crafted his heartfelt songs through the experience of loss and pain, such as losing his older brother Jack after he was seriously injured from a table saw accident as well as overcoming pill addiction.

“When someone falls down and struggles in life but then kicks themselves back up, that’s always inspiring to people too. So I think that’s probably an important part of his story also. And the fact that he and June went through a lot and they stuck it out,” Chalmers said.

Through hits such as “Cry Cry Cry” carved a rockabilly sound that would inspire several acts to follow in the country music industry, actor Tim Drake noted. With “universal themes” of love, loss and humor, Johnny Cash had a way to spin a situation he dealt with into a motivational message.

“His songs are all songs that people can relate to,” Drake said, adding, “... He plays in different genres (such as) rockabilly and a while back… he reimagined the Nine Inch Nails’ song ‘Hurt’ with Rick Rubin and it was a big big hit that they did together.”

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Actor Tim Drake sings a Johnny Cash hit during "Ring of Fire" on the Old Town Hall Theater stage in Medora. (Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation)

Johnny Cash’s 1974 spoken song “Ragged Old Flag” — which was penned following the political turbulence resulting in Nixon's impeachment and the Watergate scandal — is highlighted within the “Ring of Fire” musical. Performed by Drake, the song tells the story of an American flag and the trails it has gone down. With its patriotic lyrics and sentimental simplicity, Drake’s performance of “Ragged Old Flag” left many in a standing ovation on opening night.

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“I just love this show, it's so much fun to do… We rarely don’t get standing ovations with this show. Because it's impressive to people to see (actors) moving around, playing different instruments, dancing and singing at the same time,” he said. “... And it's Johnny's music so you can't go wrong with that.”

Tickets can be purchased at medora.com , or at any location in Medora that tickets are sold.

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The cast of "Ring of Fire" perform on stage at the Old Town Hall Theater in Medora. The show kicked off on Wednesday, Sept. 15, and will continue through Oct. 10. (Contributed / Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation)

Jackie Jahfetson is a graduate of Northern Michigan University whose journalism path began in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a freelancer for The Daily Mining Gazette. Her previous roles include editor-in-chief at The North Wind and reporter at The Mining Journal in Marquette, Mich. Raised on a dairy farm, she immediately knew Dickinson would be her first destination west as she focuses on gaining aptitude for ranch life, crop farming and everything agriculture. She covers hard news stories centered on government, fires, crime and education. When not fulfilling deadlines and attending city commission meetings, she is a budding musician and singer.
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