Maine West grad joins cast in 'Ring of Fire'
Jenna Payne remembers the first time she performed on the main stage at Maine West High School in Des Plaines. A freshman, she held multiple ensemble roles in the Stephen Schwartz musical "Working," based on Stud Terkel's book of the same name.
"I loved seeing all the moving parts," Payne says. "I was part of the tech crew and performing. I loved every minute of it, and I thought, 'I could do this forever.'"
Fast forward 10 years and Payne is still on stage, only this time as a professional. She plays young June Carter in the Metropolis production "Ring of Fire," which features the music of Johnny Cash.
"The musical is very fast moving -- we sing more than 30 of his songs -- and it covers all of the music that inspired him and the music he created," says Payne, who earned degrees in music theater and theater in 2014 at Carthage College.
Since then she has worked professionally at BrightSide Theatre in Naperville, the Jedlicka Performing Arts Center in Cicero, Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake, and Northbrook Theatre for Young Audiences.
"Ring of Fire" is her first role at Metropolis. In it, she takes young June from her teen years to her electric attraction to Cash. An early highlight is her duet with Cash, played by Tommy Malouf, when they sing the show's namesake hit, "Ring of Fire."
"It definitely means so much to know that June actually wrote that song," Payne says. "My goal is to honor her and the music she made with Johnny as authentically as possible. It's all about their love and what they did on stage together, and preserving that."
Payne is one of seven actors in the ensemble production. Malouf is coming off playing the role of Roger in the Metropolis production of "Rent." When he's not acting, he's teaching theater to underclassmen at New Trier High School in Wilmette.
Sari Greenberg of Buffalo Grove portrays the adult June. Additional ensemble members are Jacob Fjare, Jacob Huddilston, Brandy Miller and Abby Vombrack, a Stevenson High School graduate and Buffalo Grove resident who played Maureen in "Rent."
Joe Keefe, the executive director of the Metropolis, directs the show with assistant director Robin Hughes.
"The talent in this show is spectacular," Keefe says. "We have some real breakout talent."
Keefe adapted "Ring of Fire" to be something of a show within a show. The cast performs before a set outfitted as the Arlington Roadhouse, with a barn door as its backdrop and the apron extended for musical solos.
Audience members sit in as the actors at the roadhouse perform such signature songs as "I've Been Everywhere," "A Boy Named Sue," "Folsom Prison Blues," and "I Walk the Line," to name a few.
Keefe, who has played in Johnny Cash tribute bands, will sit in for more than half of the shows, playing harmonica and washboard. The band also will feature lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars, as well as piano and keyboard, mandolin, fiddle, bass and drums.
"Johnny Cash is an American treasure with a voice and personality that defined an entire category of popular music," Keefe says. "'Ring of Fire' is our tribute to his rich legacy.
"Like Johnny himself, we've sought to make our show gritty and authentic, spontaneous and a little funny," he adds, "while reveling in some of the greatest American music ever crafted."
If you goWhat: "Ring of Fire"
When: Preview performances July 21-24; regular run July 28-Aug. 28.
Where: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights.
Tickets: $30 preview; $38 regular run
More information: www.metropolisarts.com; box office, (847) 577-2121.