14 October 2014
Reviewed by Gemma Ingham
I was lucky enough to be able to go and see The Johnny Cash Roadshow at the Grand Opera House York. It was my first visit to this venue but I found it easily and there was plenty of car parking nearby. The entrance is quite small and there was a short queue leading out of the door but we were dealt with swiftly and politely. I didn’t know my way around the theatre but all the staff I came into contact with were warm, professional, friendly and I was given clear directions to our seats. The seats themselves were a bit uncomfortable and not ideal for my 6 foot 2 husband, but it’s a theatre and not a cinema so the layout and seating is as you would expect.
Throughout the performance there were ushers available should you need one, and ice cream offered from them during the interval. Other than that all the usual theatre drinks and food are available downstairs in the bar. There were plenty of toilets that were large and clean so the Grand Opera House meets the standards you would expect from a theatre.
The Johnny Cash Roadshow is not a tribute act. Do not be fooled into thinking you will see a few people on a stage impersonating Cash and June Carter perfectly. That is not what the Johnny Cash Roadshow is about and the band are not trying to be someone they are not. Instead, the Johnny Cash Roadshow is a celebration of Cash’s life and work, telling the story of his musical career capturing a varied repertoire of his music from the early days to the later tracks. It is set beautifully to a backdrop of pictures from the life of John R Cash. It is easy to see why the roadshow is personally endorsed and visited by the Carter-Cash family.
Clive John manages to emulate Cash’s deep grumbling voice while Jill Schoonjans took my breath away as soon as she started belting out her notes on songs like ‘Jackson’ and ‘Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man’. In between songs the band members are themselves and not trying to impersonate the stars they are playing. They share anecdotes and trivia about Cash and Carter as well as having banter with the rest of the band. They clearly have a genuine chemistry that was a pleasure to watch. It was amazing to watch the band playing their instruments. They really are masters of their art and rightly so they have the same amount of stage presence as John and Schoonjans.
The show started with a few tracks from just the band and Cash but it really ramped up when June Carter entered – the stage seemed to come alive with her infectious enthusiasm. The Carter Sisters were also a pleasant surprise. As a fairly recent Johnny Cash fan I do not know much about the earlier days and had no idea of Carter’s musical background so felt I learned a lot and heard Carter Sisters songs that gave off a folk vibe I would have otherwise been unaware of.
I did prefer the second half of the show to the first, but this is more likely due to me being a fan of Cash’s more upbeat tracks with ’25 minutes to go’ being one of my favourites. It was superbly played by the band and by that point as far as I was concerned I was watching the man in black himself. My husband who is not a Johnny Cash fan was blown away too and I even found him tapping his foot along. He hardly knows any Cash songs but found he could appreciate all of them, and he was especially looking forward to hearing ‘Hurt’, which was superb. The band managed to get a real rapport going with the audience being required to ‘act like rowdy prisoners’ during ‘San Quentin’ which gave the audience a laugh and really did add to the atmosphere of the song.
The Carter Sisters’ played by Amanda Stone and Louise Masters were exquisite. Their voices harmonized perfectly and I could listen to them all day. They also had a beautiful wardrobe of dresses that were modern but still had elements of the era they were designed upon.
I left the theatre feeling I had been taken on a journey. I had learned so much about Cash that I did not know, and I felt the facts and songs I did know had been done justice. I would highly recommend to anyone who is a fan of Cash, no matter whether you know all of his work or just a few songs.
The Johnny Cash Roadshow is currently touring the UK. For more information, tour dates and venues visit www.johnnycashroadshow.com.
Grand Opera House York, Clifford and Cumberland Street, York, YO1 9SW | 0844 8713024