Country superstar Johnny Cash was a music industry legend for half a century with an instantly recognisable voice and style. The hit movie I Walk the Line introduced his dramatic life story and his unmistakable, tough music to a younger generation of music lovers. Johnny Cash fans now cover three generations.
Those familiar with the highly successful bio-pic will know of the enduring love story between Johnny Cash and June Carter. A member of the iconic country music group The Carter Family, June grew up in showbiz and became an accomplished comedienne, singer, and songwriter – a true music professional and star in her own right. Together they were a towering force in American music.
Vocalist and writer Barry Ferrier has brought together a team of talented performers to create an immersive music-theatre show based on the Cash Story and interaction between these two gifted and unique music artists. Barry has the vocal depth to emulate the unique Johnny Cash sound and the vivacious and versatile Ilona Harker plays the three women in Johnny’s life as she ‘hoots and hollers’ her way through this toe-tapping, side-slapping mix of great songs and stories. ??I Hear That Train a-Comin: The Johnny Cash Story, with Barry Ferrier as Johnny Cash and Ilona Harker as ‘Mama’ Carrie, first wife Vivian, and shining as June Carter Cash, with authentic rockabilly backing by the Tennessee Two (Marshall Grant, bass, played by Slim Pickens and Luther Perkins, electric guitar, played by Neil McCann) – it’s great entertainment that appeals across the generations and is just a whole lot of fun.
No stranger to displaying her own multiple personalities, Ilona Harker, aka Mae Wilde, caught up with Echonetdaily during a break in rehearsals for this enormous show.
How does it feel performing the three different women in this show?
It’s fun but a little daunting trying to represent these three very influential and strong women in Johnny Cash’s life.
Were the women very different people?
Very much so. Carrie Cash, Johnny’s mum, was a very loving mother but the depression was hard on everyone, especially women, and she had to be pretty tough as well.
Vivian is usually portrayed as the woman who wanted to stop her husband from achieving his ambitions and I think this is a very backward and not accurate representation of her. She was raising four daughters with a husband who was never there. I want to show a side of her that has some fun but in the end she choose her children over her absent husband.
June was a clown so I have a real affinity toward her. She was the darling of the Carter family, always hamming it up on stage, and that was what endeared her to her fans, even if at times it really annoyed her husband.
Do you have a favourite of the three?
No, because they all have their darker and lighter sides, but the show is really about the love between June and Johnny so that is what we try to highlight.
Is there a sense of disloyalty to any of the three when you play any of the others?
I feel very loyal to all the women in JC’s life, as you would have had to be pretty bloody strong to be able to handle the ‘Man in Black’, but when I portray Vivian I want to show her side of the story that wasn’t really honoured or acknowledged in most of the Johnny Cash stories. I feel she was a very loyal and loving partner and mother.
With three women does it mean three awesome sets of costumes?
Yes, and I love that!
What is the highlight of the show for you?
I am a diehard country fan and I thought I knew all of Johnny Cash’s tunes, but the version of Home of the Blues is such a beautiful rendition that I get goosebumps each time Barry sings it, and I sing a version of Long Black Veil that Mick Jagger influenced me on and that I get a big kick out of.
Ilona says she has really enjoyed working on the show and with her cast mates, and love or not so country music, you will still be entertained by the story. ‘I really have adored working with Baz, Slim and Neil. Even if you don’t like country you will love this show because ultimately it’s a love story and heck, we all need a bit of love in our lives.’
I Hear That Train a-Comin: The Johnny Cash Story, will play for one night only at the Byron Bay Community Centre Theatre this Friday February 8.