The Johnny Cash Story has a very specific demographic. The audience know what they are getting into, united by a love so strong for ‘The Man In Black’ that they come with song lyrics memorized and at the ready. Singing Cash’s classics such as ‘Ring Of Fire’ and ‘I Walk The Line’, Jamie Rodden is vocally spectacular, but the evening occasionally falls a little flat.
A short biographical PowerPoint and voiceover staggers the music, but it is almost funerial in nature and serves only to confuse the audience as to whether the show intends to be light-hearted or commemorative. Johnny Cash was more than a mustachioed country singer from Arkansas, he was a man who chronicled pain and hurt in ways previously unheard, a man who battled addiction for the better part of his life and a man who changed country music forever. He was not two-dimensional, and Rodden’s zig-zagging between playing the part and playing the PowerPoint is confusing at best, but cartoonish at worst.
Focusing more on the music, the bass player in particular is outstanding, and Rodden pulls off Cash’s baritone verve in manner that comes off fittingly authentically. It is important to remember that whatever sensationalist stories his life may have spun, Johnny Cash is remembered for his music, not his media image, and the audience – largely men and women in their late forties – seem to appreciate this more than the act itself at times.
Until Rodden breaks character, there is no sense that Cash truly existed outside his music as a person, rather than a saint. As a result, the ensuing admittance by Rodden that Cash wasn’t perfect almost comes off as anatomised from the Wikipedia-influence PowerPoint presentation.
All in all, The Night Owl Shows’ tribute act The Johnny Cash Story is poorly punctuated biographically, but triumphant in delivering his songs to an audience that wasn’t alive when he wrote them. Rodden is supremely talented, and his Johnny Cash accolade is but a taste of the other tribute acts-cum-experiences Night Owl Shows have brought to the Fringe this year.
The Johnny Cash Story is at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall – Fleming Theatre
At 18:20 until August 24th
Book tickets here
Image: Graeme MacDonald