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World Premiere of “The Ballad of Johnny and June”

By   /  June 18, 2024  /  No Comments


At the Mandell Weiss Theatre at the La Jolla Playhouse

TR Robertson – A slightly different and very entertaining look at the life of Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash is taking place, until July 7th, on the Mandell Weiss Theatre Stage at the La Jolla Playhouse. The musical, book by Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, is told and sung through the narration of their only child together, John Carter Cash, and others. John Carter Cash also consulted with Cary and McAnuff, assisting with the completion of a script that goes into a little more detail about the story of Johnny and June’s early life, their families, development of their careers, chance meeting and the long courtship. marriage and personal struggles Johnny and June faced until their passing.

  • Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash

The unique set design resembles an early railroad box car and as the audience took their seats and settled in, the 6-piece country band, situated in the back of the stage under the direction of Michael Pearce, played some classic railroad songs, such as “Railroad Bill”, “Freight Train” and the Wabash Cannonball”, finishing with an all-time Western classic, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. The remaining set would be configured, throughout the musical, into Johnny’s early home, various radio stations, the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and numerous other scenes from the life of Johnny and June. Video projections above the stage would indicate the city, place or date of the scene happening below. Scenic Design was by Robert Brill, Projection Design by Sean Nieuwenhuis.

Christopher Ryan Grant plays Johnny Cash and has a remarkable resemblance to the younger Johnny Cash, complete with his mannerisms, the way Cash would hold his guitar and move on stage and the Cash smirk. Along with this, Grant’s voice was a close match to Johnny’s and the portrayal of the addiction struggles Cash dealt with throughout his career exemplified the darker side of his life. His co-star is Patti Murin as Valerie June Carter Cash.  Murin and Grant had great stage presence with voices that were complementary. As June, Murin brought out the vivacious, comedic nature June had on stage and when Johnny and June dealt with a series of ups and downs, she was able to bring out the difficulty and emotions the Cash’s must have faced and struggled with during their long relationship.

The musical and story of the tender and sometime tumultuous life of Johnny and June is told by their only son, John Carter Cash, who is played by Van Hughes. Hughes, as John, becomes a narrator on stage both speaking to the audience and singing about his parent’s early life, their development as country performers, their previous marriages and break-ups, the different versions of how Johnny and June met and the relationship that developed and the fight both went through in dealing with addictions to drugs and alcohol, to the final days of their lives. Hughes joins in on a number of the memorable songs from Johnny Cash’s musical repertoire both singing and playing the guitar.

Helping tell the story of Johnny and June is Maddie Shea Baldwin as one of June’s sisters, Anita. One interesting musical story is that June is said to have written “Ring of Fire” in the 1960’s for sister Anita and Anita recorded the song with minimal success. Johnny liked the song and added mariachi trumpets to the beginning, picked up the song’s pace and used the Carter Family as back-ups and the rest is country music history. Gabriella Joy plays Vivian, Johnny’s first wife, who he met while in the U.S. Air Force stationed in San Antonio, Texas. Gabriella gives an emotional performance when confronting Johnny about his relationship that is developing with June, the reactions of a wife whose husband is rarely home and a woman dealing with her religious convictions.

The remainder of the cast plays several people that were important in the life of Johnny and June Cash. This included portraying members of Johnny’s first band (The Tennessee Three), members of the Carter Family, Johnny’s older brother Jack (who died from an accident with a table saw), members of Johnny’s band in later years, Johnny’s father Ray and several other people in Johnny and June’s life. These cast members had tremendous voices, played a number of instruments and helped paint the picture of the amazing life of two of country music’s most notable performers. This cast included Paula Leggett Chase, Drew Wildman Foster, Bart Shatto and Correy West.

The Creative Team for “The Ballard of Johnny and June” included Direction by Des McAnuff, Music Supervisor and Orchestrations by Ron Melrose, Choreography by Byron Easley, Costume Designer Sarafina Bush, Lighting Designer Amanda Zieve, Sound Designer Peter Fitzgerald, Wig Designer Alberto “Albee” Alvarado, Music Director Lisa and Stage Manager Dean Remington.

“The Ballad of Johnny and June” is a fast-paced musical that is also a history lesson about two of country music’s most iconic performers, both individually and as a duet. Their love affair, the historic country music family, their fight with the demons they fought at different times, the songs they sang that have become memorable country western songs and much more have become a part of country music history known by millions. The La Jolla Playhouse presentation will provide theatre goers with a lot to talk about. Not only about the performance on stage, but also about the relationship Johnny and June had. Love is a special thing and as John Carter Cash says as he spoke about the love his father had for his mother and how special it was, even with all of the turmoil they endured, “It’s all gone in the blink of an eye.”

“The Ballad of Johnny and June” will be at the Mandell Weiss Theatre Stage at the La Jolla Playhouse until July 7th. Tickets are available at www.lajollaplayhouse.org or call 858-550-1010.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash Additional Info:

*June Carter only had 2 sisters. Johnny Cash had 3 older siblings (2 brothers and 1 sister) and 3 younger siblings (2 sisters and 1 brother)

*June won 5 Grammy Awards and an additional Grammy with Johnny for “Jackson”. Johnny won 13 Grammy’s.

*Johnny is said to have met June in 1956 backstage at the Grand Ole Opry

*June was married 3 times (counting Johnny Cash) and had one child in each marriage

*June passed away on May 15, 2003, at the age of 73 from complications of heart-valve replacement surgery. Johnny passed away 4 months later, on September 12, 2003, at the age of 71 from complications from diabetes.

*Johnny proposed to June at the London Icehouse in London, Ontario, during their live performance in 1968.

*June’s first studio performance with Johnny Cash was in 1964 singing “It Ain’t Me Babe” by Bob Dylan

*Johnny’s first recording at Sun Records with the Tennessee Three was “Hey Porter”.

*Johnny began every performance with “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”.

*Johnny said, in one interview, he always wore black because it was easier to keep looking clean on long tours. In another interview he said he wore black on behalf of the poor and hungry, the “prisoner who has long paid for his crime and those who have been betrayed by age or drugs”.

*In 1956, Johnny ran into Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Records and an all-night jam session led to the famous Million Dollar Quartet recording.

*Johnny sang the Kris Kristofferson song, “Sunday Morning, Coming Down”, on his Johnny Cash television show and went against the T.V. censor’s directions of not including the line, “On a Sunday morning sidewalk I’m wishin’ Lord that I was stoned”.

*Johnny Cash is in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but June has never been selected.

*Before June passed away, she told Johnny to keep recording songs. He recorded 60 songs in 4 months before he passed away.


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  • Published: 1 month ago on June 18, 2024
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  • Last Modified: June 18, 2024 @ 1:05 am
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