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Man in Black

an interview by Cindy-Jo Dietz

THERE ARE MANY MUSUCIANS who pass through this world as barely a bleep on the radar and then there are those who enter the spotlight and leave as masters, legends and icons. The latter was the great Johnny Cash. Most widely known for his country and folk hits, Johnny Cash’s work also varied from rockabilly to cover songs by industrial music giant Nine Inch Nails. He was truly a versatile and talented man who could reach into the souls of the masses and touch each and every one of us personally, be it through his timeless poetry or through a simple yet potent guitar riff. Though many of his newest fans are too young to have had the pleasure of seeing Johnny in a live performance, he continues to influence listeners far and wide, as he has done for years and no doubt will continue to do for years to come.

As a man, Johnny Cash came up from impoverishment to the heights of fame, and as he did he created a unique and timeless story. His story is one which includes loss, love, sorrow and happiness, pain and perseverance. It is no wonder there are those who seek to share this story with the world. No matter who you are, it is impossible not to find something to take with you; a lesson to learn from the man himself, the great Johnny Cash.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Scott Moreau, an accomplished local actor who is currently taking on the challenge of telling Johnny’s tale. Scott plays Johnny (among other characters and other actors) in the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre’s presentation of Ring of Fire. The production runs through June 5th and includes many of Mr. Cash’s greatest hits along with excerpts from his autobiography.

I visited Scott on location at the Broadway Palm Theater to learn more about the actor himself and to get his take on the production.

CINDY-JO: You’ll be playing Johnny Cash in the production of Ring of Fire. I heard you would be playing him during his rebellious years.

SCOTT: It’s kind of confusing to explain. There are three main guys that play Johnny Cash and there are three women who play June, but not always. We take on different parts in his life. I start off the show as Johnny’s brother, who died when they were children. As time moves on we morph. About the second act I become what most people think of when they think of Johnny: dark, wearing black, singing about prison, singing about drugs and that type of thing.

Do you feel you get into character heavily?

Technically, we’re not impersonating Johnny Cash. We’re telling a story. We’re singing his songs. Because a lot of his songs are story songs, they lend themselves well to the story we’re telling through his autobiography. With this show, yes we get to be actors, but more like rock stars for two hours. All three guys play guitar. On top of that we have two other guitarists, a fiddler, a drummer, a piano player, and an upright bassist.

Is this a live music performance the whole time?

Oh yeah. There are points where it really does feel like a rock concert. I’m standing in the middle of a stage with a wireless mic on me, a wireless mic on my guitar. It’s not us just doing impressions of him; it’s us paying tribute to him and his music. It is a concert — we just have bits and pieces of autobiographical information in between.

As far as this character is concerned, do you connect to your subject? Do you see any similarities between yourself and him?

I think I can. He was influential in many ways. You may not like Johnny Cash — his music or anything — but anybody can take inspiration from his story: coming from nothing as a poor kid in Arkansas in the 30s just after the depression, during World War II, then his older brother dying when he was 12, his father was never supportive, drugs and alcohol. He overcame all this to become a star.

Are there any highlights we should be made aware of?

One of the interesting things for me is that… Yes, Ring of Fire does tell his story; the important thing is it goes through the stages of his life. It’s really nicely constructed. There’s something in it for everybody. Everybody knows at least one Johnny Cash song. People have their favorites. There’s a song for everybody in the show and there are also sections for everybody in the show.

There are going to be people who do not like to see me sing ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, because I’m in a prison and I’m talking about being in a prison. There are going to be people who don’t want to hear me sing ‘Cocaine Blues’, which is talking about killing my wife and running away to Mexico. However, there are a lot of different facets about the show. If you’re from the South you may remember picking cotton as a kid. If you remember living on a farm there are plenty of songs about that. If you’re a God-fearing Christian and you love amazingly beautiful hymns, then there are going to be five or six of those.

Who wrote the play?

Christian Motley Jr., I believe, wrote the book for the show, but Johnny Cash’s son was moderately involved. He kind of oversees everything now that Johhny’s passed on.

Do you do any of the rockabilly style music?

Not really, it’s mostly his straight up Country stuff.

Who are the other actors playing Johnny Cash?

One is a guy named Todd Meredith. He’s a real close friend of mine. People in this area may probably recognize him if they saw him. A couple of years ago he played Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story. A very talented guitarist, he actually writes some of his own music. He’s just a really great performer. He does a great job in Ring of Fire, too. One of my favorite songs he does is ‘Boy Named Sue’.

The other guy is Mike Long. He plays Johnny later in life. I think he does a great version of ‘Man in Black’. He’s all dressed in black, has his guitar on him and looks a lot like some of the famous pictures you see of Johnny later in life with the long trench coat. He also does what is always a crowd favorite, ‘Ragged Old Flag’. Mike reads Johnny’s poem ‘Ragged Old Flag’with music in the background. There are iconic images such as the Statue of Liberty; a lot of American flags. People always go crazy for it. I think we still have a lot of patriotism in this country.

And who is playing June Carter?

There are three women who take on that roll. One is Maria Wright. She sings one of my mother’s favorite songs with me: ‘I’ll Be Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Georgia’. It’s about me, Johnny’s brother Jack, dying in a table saw accident and going to heaven and her singing to me to not be afraid, to not worry, that even though I’m crossing over before she does, she’ll see me there. It’s a very touching moment. She also sings ‘Jackson’ with Mike and it brings down the house at the end of the first act. So that’s another great moment. The other two women are Kelly Cusomano and Diana Fox. They are actually new additions to the show.

I’m assuming the show is mostly music with the main characters being June and Johnny Cash, but how do the scenes transition?

We finish a song and then somebody steps forward and kind of does a monologue. Sometimes there’s a small scene, like for instance: Todd and the woman he’ll be playing opposite will do a song called ‘If I Were a Carpenter’. It’s set up by Todd walking out and him talking about the first time he saw June Carter perform at the Grand Old Opera. Then he says the next time he saw her was ten years later backstage. He runs into her and says “Hey. I’m going to marry you someday.” That’s actually the first time they met, and that’s actually what he said. And then they go into ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and they sing. So that’s kind of how it flows through.

Do you prefer musicals? Are you looking to get into TV or movies?

I’m a singer first. I’ve been singing since I was 3 or 4 years old. I got more and more into music and then found music theatre as a good outlet. I didn’t just want to do concerts on stage or be a music teacher. I found theatre as not only a way to sing, but a way to learn how to act. I’m not particularly interested in TV and film though.

You enjoy what you’re doing?

Yeah.

Can you offer some advice for young actors looking to get into the business?

If you’re a young actor looking for an outlet or you’re trying to get into theatre, do as much community theatre as you possibly can. Any sort of outreach programs, whether they be summer camps, if you have a local professional theatre, etc. •

Ring of Fire is playing at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre thru June 5. The theatre is located at 1380 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday: dinner 5:30pm, show at 7:30pm; Sunday: dinner 5:30pm, show 7pm, selected matinees: Wed, Thu, Sat, Sun: lunch 11:45am, show 1:15pm. Call 278-4422 for information.

from the May-June 2010 issue

"You may not like
Johnny Cash,
but anybody can take
inspiration from
his story."