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'Ring'ing in a new season: ‘Ring of Fire’ opens Friday at Chief Theater

Abby Sexton and Daniel PaulJohn Lane rehearse for the Paul Bunyan Playhouse’s production of “Ring of Fire” on Wednesday evening at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—The Paul Bunyan Playhouse is "ringing" in the new season Friday night with the premiere of "Ring of Fire" at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji.

"Ring of Fire" is a fascinating stage presentation focusing on the music of Johnny Cash, also known simply as Cash or The Man in Black. Regardless of the moniker, the American legend has sold more than 90 million albums with 400-plus songs to his credit, is a member of the Nashville Writers Hall of Fame, and just the name garners respect, if not reverence.

In choosing "Ring of Fire" as the first production of the 67th summer season, the Paul Bunyan Playhouse has displayed theatrical inspiration, as this adaptation of the Broadway play is often recommended for intimate spaces or smaller theaters. That should serve Bemidji audience members well for the Chief Theater.

"Ring of Fire," as created by Tony Award-winning director Richard Maltby Jr. and conceived by William Meade, was explained by Maltby in an interview with Playbill.com as; "...(being) about home and family and getting together and loving somebody and having a backyard and generations living together, it's about what holds you together in the face of a hard life, it's about the really basic family values."

Considering the sheer magnitude of Cash's work and his widely publicized, hard-fought battle for, and with life, this creative endeavor could not have been easy. Yet, "Ring of Fire" manages to do just what Maltby envisioned, and does it very well.

The cast onstage for the Playhouse deftly mine the emotional depths of the music, and The Man in Black himself, allowing for moments of pure magic with Daniel PaulJohn Lane, Alyssa Collett, Libby Sorenson, Abby Sexton, Tanner Garrigan, Erick Smedsrud and Cale Rausch. They are expertly accompanied in this task by the band, (occupying a place of importance on the stage the entire performance) featuring musicians Dan Will, Greg Gaston, Abby Sexton, Libby Sorenson and Alyssa Collett. Combined with the gifted costuming of Marilyn Hood and the haunting, yet oddly inviting, set by Phillip Hoks; it all works together effortlessly.

Other members of this successful creative team are director Jim Williams, choreographer Heidi Spesard-Noble, stage manager Shelley Gorak, technical director Ryan Zako, lighting designer Johnny McCallum and sound technician Sean Conlon.

Shortly following Cash's death, Rolling Stone magazine featured the singer on the cover of their October 16, 2003, issue. Inside were more than a dozen tributes to Cash from Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Bono, Rick Rubin, Al Gore and many others. But perhaps the most effusive unexpectedly came from a man not known for excessive praise: Cash's old friend Bob Dylan. Dylan said, "He is what the land and country is all about, the heart and soul of it personified and what it means to be here; and he said it all in plain English. Listen to him, and he will always bring you to your senses."

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse performances of "Ring of Fire" are today and Saturday at 7:30 with a Sunday, June 10, matinee at 2 p.m. The show also will have a 2 p.m. matinee, Wednesday, June 13, as well as 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week. Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at (218) 751-7270 or online at www.thechieftheater.com/tickets.html. General admission is $25, matinee $20, student $15 and flex books are still available for $115. "The Complete History of America Abridged" will be on stage next, June 22-30, followed by "Clue, the Musical," "Steel Magnolias" and "Hairspray."

This production is underwritten by ForestEdge Winery and Norbord Minnesota.

If you go

What: "Ring of Fire," premiere show of Paul Bunyan Playhouse's 67th season.

Where: Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave., downtown Bemidji.

When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., 2 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 13; 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday-Saturday next week.

Tickets: General admission is $25, matinee $20, student $15 and flex books are still available for $115; (218) (218) 751-7270 or online at www.thechieftheater.com/tickets.html.

Up next: "The Complete History of America Abridged," June 22-30.

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