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REVIEW: THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY AND JUNE (A WORLD PREMIERE MUSICAL)—La Jolla Playhouse

"Sometimes I am two people. Johnny is the nice one. Cash causes all the trouble...They fight."—Johnny Cash


Love is indeed a burning thing.


Country music royalty Johnny Cash (Christopher Ryan Grant ) and June Carter Cash (Patti Murin) remain to this day one of the most famous couples of the 20th Century.


Created with the support of the family and told through the eyes of their son John Carter Cash, this new musical covers it all: their childhoods, their 1956 meeting at the Grand Ole Opry, the storied on-stage proposal in 1968, and the soaring highs and whiplash lows of fame, life on the road, addiction, arrests, controversies, marriage, family and devotion.


With book by Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, and music and lyrics by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and others, this is a whole-hearted and clear-eyed telling of one of the most iconic love stories in music history, complete with a soundtrack of beloved hits—“I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” “Hey Porter,” “Jackson,” “I’ve Been Everywhere,” and many more.

Des McAnuff (who directs the current production playing now through July 7th in the Mandell Weiss Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse) is an award-winning director and former Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival.


Patti Murin and Christopher Ryan Grant star in the World Premiere The Ballad of Johnny and June, Now Playing at La Jolla Playhouse through July 7th

On Broadway, he has helmed “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Guys and Dolls,” Aaron Sorkin’s “The Farnsworth Invention,” “Jersey Boys” (Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical), “Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays” (Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event), “The Who's Tommy” (Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Director) and “Big River” (Tony Awards for Best Director, Best Musical). Most recently, he has directed “Ain't Too Proud,” and “SUMMER: The Donna Summer Musical.” In his long-awaited return to the Playhouse, this world premiere musical is sure to be another smash hit.


The Company in the World Premiere The Ballad of Johnny and June, Now Playing at La Jolla Playhouse through July 7th

“You can go deeper and deeper and you still might never get to the bottom of what makes two people love each other, or stay together. Or come apart.” John Carter Cash, Johnny and June


The June in the title refers to Grammy-winning singer-songwriter June Carter Cash, the second wife of Johnny Cash. The lives of the late couple were previously documented in the 2005 film “Walk the Line,” co-starring Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix. Then, “Ring of Fire,” a musical that drew from the catalog of songs written and made famous by the late Cash, opened on Broadway March 12, 2006. That production, created and directed by Richard Maltby Jr., did not offer a strict biography of Cash, but rather the essence of an American experience.


Patti Murin and Christopher Ryan Grant star in the World Premiere The Ballad of Johnny and June, Now Playing at La Jolla Playhouse through July 7th

Born J. R. Cash February 26, 1932, Grammy winner Johnny Cash's most well-known signature tune is "Folsom Prison Blues." Mr. Cash, who sold more than 90 million records worldwide, passed away September 12, 2003. June Carter Cash died four months earlier on May 15, 2003.


Cash was admittingly never an innocent; there was always a dark controlling intelligence. His rumbling eloquence always seem hard-won and provisional. One critic described him as an "American Rasputin," oscillating between "iniquity and redemption, between the dark urges of the flesh and the thrill of intimacy with the divine.” This was apparent in all his work, even the Shel Silverstein songs he sang. His bone-deep voice, his not quite handsome face, his lumbering, almost stolid stage presence: he was definitely no Jumping Jack Flash. But, of all the first generation OGs of rock 'n' roll, Cash was the one most like us.


Christopher Ryan Grant (ctr) and Company starring in the World Premiere The Ballad of Johnny and June, Now Playing at La Jolla Playhouse through July 7th

Christopher Ryan Grant (Broadway’s “Million Dollar Quartet”) as Johnny Cash; Van Hughes (Broadway’s “American Idiot”) is John Carter Cash; Patti Murin (Broadway’s “Frozen”) is June Carter Cash; Maddie Shea Baldwin is Anita; Paula Leggett Chase is Carrie; Drew Wildman Foster is Carl Smith/Jack Cash/Marshall Grant; Gabriella Joy is Vivian; Bart Matthew Shatto is Ray Cash/Sam Phillips/W.S. Holland; Correy West is Luther Perkins/Rip Nix. Understudies: Summer Broyhill, Michael Louis Cusimana, Cody Ingram, Baily Day Sonner.


Written by Robert Cary and Playhouse Director Emeritus and two-time Tony Award winner Des McAnuff;  Music and Lyrics by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and others; Arranger/Orchestrator/Music Supervisor Ron Melrose; Music Director Lisa LeMay; Choreographer Byron Easley; Scenic Designer Robert Brill; Costume Designer Sarafina Bush; Lighting Designer Amanda Zieve; Sound Designer Peter Fitzgerald; Projection Designer Sean Nieuwenhuis; Wig Designer Alberto “Albee” Alvarado; Tara Rubin Casting/Spencer Gualdoni; CSA/Jacole Kitchen; Stage Manager Dean Remington; Assistant Stage Managers Vanessa Dodgson-Thomas and Marie Jahelka.


LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS, THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY AND JUNE, Playing at La Jolla Playhouse from May 28th through July 7th. Duration: Approx. 2 hours, 15 min., with one 15-min. intermission. Parking available in the South Structure with parking pass. Free shuttle available to the theatre. For ticket and showtime information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org 

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report




Photo Credits: Rich Soublet II





 

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