It’s May – that time between the blistering heat of summer and the unpredictability of spring. This is the time of the year when people head outdoors. They start working on their yards. They start planning day trips, and, in the evening, they venture out to find a cool outdoor activity. For many people, that used to mean heading down to the Cape Fear River to take in the Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s River Show. 

With the river slowly reclaiming the stage at Campbellton Landing, the CFRT has been unable to produce a River Show the past couple of years, but the lack of an outdoor venue has definitely not prevented them from bringing great music and great musicians to the stage. This year is no exception. From May 12 through May 22, the Cape Fear Regional Theatre invites you to sit back and share an hour or so with the Man In Black, as Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash comes to the stage.

The River Show has always been a special project for Bo Thorp. In fact, she and her son penned a couple of the shows. For Thorp, bringing great music to the River Stage was exciting. Even though she can’t take this show to the river, she is still excited.

“The River Show always focused on great music,” said Thorp. “And that’s what people are going to get in this show.”

People who know Thorp know that she is not afraid to change a script around – or even start from scratch. With Ring of Fire, Thorp and the cast have been doing a lot of that. Thorp explained that the show was written for Broadway, which actually means that there was a lot of sparkle but not a lot of the grit that made Cash a legend. In order to bring the legend to life, Thorp is departing from the original script and the actors are doing a lot of impromptu things – all of which was part and parcel of a Johnny Cash live show.

“I’ve been doing a lot of research on Johnny Cash. I read his autobiography and it is all marked up,” she said. “I know more about Johnny Cash than I ever thought I would.”

What she has learned has not only intrigued her, but also inspired her and the cast.

“He was a very spiritual person,” she explained, noting that it was his Christian beliefs and principles that had him reaching out to the men in prison, which ultimately produced prison concerts. Cash had strayed far from the straight and narrow during his early years, but when he got himself straight, he had a compassion for those who were walking his old path.

All of this: his rowdy years, his troubled years and his just years combined to create some of the greatest music and made Cash an icon. 

Bringing Cash to life is Baxter Clement, a talented Southern Pines musician also owns Casino Guitars. Clement is no stranger to the CFRT stage or to the idea of the River Show. Several years ago he played Buddy Holly during the River Show, and he was one of the first people Thorp thought of when she started planning for Ring of Fire. Clement is classically trained, having attending the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Mozartium in Salsburg, Austria. 

He is joined on stage by James Villone, also of Southern Pines, who works at Casino Guitars. Villone is playing the role of James, a musician in Cash’s band. Like the other musicians in the show, he has challenged himself by learning other instruments and will play numerous instruments during the show.

That is part of the magic of this production. All of the musicians who are performing can play by ear and almost all have learned a new instrument. Clement said that there will be a lot of impromptu musical switches in the show, and he is looking forward to audience involvement, noting that the audience makes this kind of show.

Join the cast for a “foot-stompin salute to an American legend.” The show runs May 12-22 with tickets ranging in price from $15 to $28. To purchase tickets, call 323-4233 or online at www.cfrt.org.


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