Review: 'Ring of Fire' by Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“In a small cast setting, this show has just the right formula to bring the story of Johnny Cash to the audience in a very intimate and personal way that will touch each and every person throughout the show.” - First time Director Jim Luurtsema 

Thomaston, CT - Landmark Community Theatre presents ‘Ring of Fire - The Music of Johnny Cash’ through September 18 on the stage in the historic Thomaston Opera House.The show was created by Richard Maltby, Jr. and conceived by William Meade.  Landmark’s production was directed by Jim Luurtsema in his directorial debut, although the active trombone player has served as music director (and sometimes sound designer) for numerous local productions. Matt Albert made his debut in the role of music director.

‘Ring of Fire’ struck me as the ultimate jukebox musical, with a minimum of spoken lines and 32 of the songs of Johnny Cash that are performed in quick succession. Many of the pieces were not written by Mr. Cash, but he did record all of them during his long career. There are gospel songs, some silly pieces (“Egg Suckin’ Dog” for instance) and of course some of his hits. True Johnny Cash fans were in their glory as the two acts unfolded, and for many in the opening night audience, it was their first visit to the Thomaston Opera House for a show.

Vice Chair of the Landmark Board of Trustees Foster Reese manned the bar with a temporary liquor license in front of the stage as patrons were shown to their seats. Before the lights went down, the five cast members mingled with the audience in their first costume. Lori Holm (Trenna) stopped by my seat to say hello and reiterated what she had written in her bio, namely that this role has been a journey through so many of her real-life memories and “truly brought her home.”

The five cast members took to the stage and easily began to accompany themselves as they performed the wide variety of musical numbers. Payton Turpin, who served as the narrator dubbed Jason, also played rhythm guitar. The smooth voice of this community theatre veteran served him well as he sang and told us about the life of the man in black. Ms. Holm covered many of the vocals and played auxiliary percussion like tambourine. This talented singer was a stand out, and not simply because she was the only woman in the cast. 

Robert Saunders (Eddie) played rhythm guitar as well as aux percussion; this singing actor appeared in both ‘1940’s Radio Hour’ and ‘Memphis’ at the TOH. Edward Rosenblatt (David,) who is excited to perform onstage with his fiancee Lori, played electric guitar, resonator, banjo, mandolin, accordion and aux percussion, all with mastery. In his bio he thanked his late parents for insisting on all those music lessons. 

Michael Conroy (Mark) performed on the upright bass (on loan from Torrington HS) and also aux percussion. Usually sitting in the pit of local theaters and schools, this talented musicians plays trumpet, guitar, bass and flute, and is a founding member of the band Opening Night. As Mark he returns to the stage after 21 years and I wished that his role allowed him more time in the spotlight. 

Mr. Luurtsema did a fine job of making the intimate nature of this show work in the Opera House space and Mr. Albert made sure that the musicians would shine. The show neatly fit into two hours with an intermission.

The costumes designed by Barbara Piscopo and stage manager Kate Luurtsema were perfectly Southern and Mrs. Luurtsema designed the video and photography that graced the stage with purpose. Lighting by Tori Campbell and Alex Dunn was done well, but there were some very loud sound issues that led the cast to mention “thunder” in the Opera House. Before the show, Juan Cardona worked his magic on the theatre pipe organ and in fact, produced sounds to simulate a train in a manner I had never experienced.