La Porte Little Theatre presents Johnny Cash tribute ‘Ring of Fire’

Co-directors Scott Lenig and Matt Robinson had an adventurous search throughout Northwest Indiana looking for what they describe as their “holy grail of musical sound effects” to use for their new production.

The duo needed an old fashioned anvil, the type of blacksmith heavy weighted tool equally familiar as the weapon dropped on the heads of characters in Looney Tunes cartoons.

An anvil is needed to emit the distinct clanking sounds of a prison chain gang and “a must” for a musical segment in the revue “Ring of Fire,” showcasing the songs of the late Johnny Cash.

“For one of the portions of the ‘Ring of Fire’ show, there’s an entire prison theme section of songs, since Cash spent time behind bars, and it calls for using real chains and a hammer pounding an anvil,” said Lenig, co-directing the “Ring of Fire” run with Robinson at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays March 1-10 at La Porte Little Theatre.

“Because of this show, I now know if I ever have to buy another anvil, I can get one at Harbor Freight Tools in Michigan City.”

Nine musicians and 14 singers comprise the cast of “Ring of Fire,” which features Cash hits “Man in Black,” “I Walk the Line,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and the show’s title song, among others.

Robinson and Lenig said they caught a performance of the “Ring of Fire” run last season at Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook Terrace, and were hooked on the energy and the audience excitement related to Cash, his wife June Carter, and the couple’s variety of song hits.

Lenig said Drury Lane Theatre opted to license the “small cast” version of “Ring of Fire,” which requires a multi-talented cast responsible for the double duty of playing  instruments, singing, and acting, all to bring the characters to life during the two-hour performance.

“We opted to do the large cast license option for La Porte Little Theatre, and have a separate band of musicians share the stage with singers,” Robinson said.

In 2014, Theatre at the Center in Munster staged the musical.

Conceived by William Meade and originally created and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr., “Ring of Fire” was unveiled as a tribute to Cash, who died at age 71 in 2003, and to his wife June Carter, who died at age 73 earlier the same year.

The stage musical debut tested with New York audiences in Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theatre in Fall 2005 boasting “38 of Johnny Cash’s songs, such as ‘Country Boy,’ ‘A Thing Called Love,’ ‘Five Feet High and Rising,’ ‘Hurt’ and others.”

“Ring of Fire” then opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in 2006, for a brief run.

“This is a musical for fans of Cash and his music, but it’s also very enjoyable for all ages,” Lenig said.

“We’ve created an incredible set design which gives the impression of a country barn or even how the stage at the famed Grand Ole Opry looks from the vantage point of their audience.”

“Other stage spaces like Drury Lane and Theatre at the Center opted to have a stage set that for their productions of ‘Ring of Fire’ recreated a train station or train depot building as the background,” Lenig said.

“We like the rustic look of our barn to frame our cast, and during a special segment of the show, we even have recreations of the Grand Ole Opry microphone stand sign strips which read ‘Grand Ole Opry’ which we made from plastic and vinyl lettering but look spot on.”

‘Ring of Fire’

When: March 1-10

Where: La Porte Little Theatre, 218 A St., La Porte

Cost: $19 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for students

Information: 219-362-5113;

Philip Potempa is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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