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From Dusk ’til Death

Cashing in on Johnny
By AMY MARTIN  |  August 30, 2006

SING ME A SONG But don't push the story line.
Johnny Cash is one of my heroes. He’s an American bad ass, who perpetually gave the finger to the system. If you didn’t know that until you saw Walk the Line, that’s fine, you know it now. Point is, I consume all that is Johnny Cash or claims to be, which is why I drove over an hour to Boothbay Harbor’s Carousel Music Theater for The Man in Black: A Tribute to Johnny Cash.

Having no idea what to expect, my date and I (both severely congested with head colds and hopped up on Sudafed) gawked with open mouths at the big red barn with the giant luxury bus full of old people parked in front. With caution we entered the barn; once inside we were sure the theater ensemble would lock the doors at dusk, turn into vampires, and devour us all. If this is how I’m going down, I’ll need a drink. And lots of them.

The Carousel serves plenty of drinks — including the bottle of shiraz our waiter encouraged us to order — and dinner during their pre-show Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack Cabaret, which was an hour of Rat Pack songs sung in circular spotlight, accompanied by piano. (Singing Grand Ole Opry songs would have been a better choice to keep with the theme.) Our waiter joined the others to open the show with a gracious song written for tourists who had spent the day in Boothbay Harbor. “That’s it,” I whispered to my date, “we’d better leave now before we get hacked up into little pieces. Plus I think that lady with the oxygen tank has an Uzi.”

Although the real Rat Pack was packing back in their time, nobody in the audience was, nor the ensemble. However, they were full of smiles and hokey gestures to enhance each song. Don’t get me wrong. These guys and dolls are excellent technical singers. They skillfully sing every allegro, crescendo, and portamento using no microphones while projecting to fill the entire barn.

All that razz-matazz had my head reeling. At this point, I was pretty sure they’re going to kill us all. Perhaps softly with their song if not with vampire teeth. I was quite skeptical by the time the show had begun. By the looks of the program they were to sing 17 songs. Were these guys going to sing Cash songs with their smiley, jazz-hands, turbo-vibrato style? What would Johnny make of this? I suppose he’d be honored by any tribute — even if it is corny. So even with the threat of death by vampire, I gave it a chance.

The ensemble used Cash’s songs (including his cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt”) and very brief acting scenes to tell the story of Johnny (not the real one) who had left his family 20 years ago and came back to redeem himself in order to get into Heaven. Neither his wife, Carrie, nor his kids, Maybelle and JR, recognized him, yet they welcomed him onto their farm and confessed the details of their dysfunctional marriages.

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Related: Johnny Cash, Review: Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, Review: ''Backstage Pass'' at the PMA, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Trent Reznor,  More more >
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