Young rising star makes debut at HARTSpecial to The Mountaineer
Blonde hair, blue eyed Matthew Curry, the 20-year-old from Canton who stars in the Broadway musical “Ring of Fire” playing at HART, may not look like Johnny Cash.
But when this slim framed singer/songwriter steps onstage with his guitar and sings the first few lines of one of Cash’s hits, “Straight A’s in Love,” audiences can’t help but admit his voice sounds exactly like the legendary singer’s.
“It’s really shocking to the audience when this kid from Canton with his guitar opens his mouth with a real bass voice,” Steve Lloyd, executive director of HART, said. “He doesn’t fit the whole image, but his voice makes up for it and everyone loves him.”
“Ring of Fire” tells the story of portions of Cash’s life, although not in chronological order, as portrayed through some of his songs performed by a cast of two actresses and three actors, including Curry.
A Pisgah High School 2010 alumnus, Curry has been singing Johnny Cash songs all his life and knows more than 350 tunes sung by Cash, sometimes called the "Man in Black."
Growing up, Curry and his grandpa, the late J.B. Brown, would listen to records of old country artists like Merle Haggard and Hank William’s on his grandpa’s record player.
“I remember the first time I heard a Johnny Cash record on his player, I fell in love with the music,” Curry said. “It was a mix of rock ‘n’ roll and country. Kind of like outlaw music.”
Ever since, Curry has devoted all his free time to practicing Cash’s songs, singing along to the lyrics in his truck or picking out the tune on his guitar in his room.
A self-taught guitarist, Curry travels throughout Haywood County performing with his band, The Matthew Curry Band, which features himself and his friend, Josh Harris, on guitar and a rotating drummer. Over the last year, the group has appeared at nursing homes, the American Legion in Waynesville, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Canton, playing – you guessed it – old country music, especially Johnny Cash hits.
Last September, Curry decided to take his talent to the stage, and auditioned for Haywood’s Got Talent, an event sponsored by HART, which showcases local talent and offers a $1,000 grand prize.
Although Curry’s performance of his favorite Cash hit, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” didn’t win him any cash awards, he did win the notice of Steve Lloyd, who encouraged him to audition for “Ring of Fire” earlier this year.
Although excited to be chosen from a group of nearly 18 other talented musicians, Curry admits he lacked musical theatre experience and had to work hard to improve his stage presence.
“This was his first theatrical performance,” Mark Jones, director of the “Ring of Fire,” said. “I told him it’s not just about standing on stage with a guitar in a bar like he’s used to doing. When you’re on stage in a theater, people are actually paying a lot of attention to you.”
While memorizing his lines and drawing diagrams to understand proper stage blocking did prove challenging, Curry said his biggest obstacle was being able to sing Cash’s songs in higher chords like they’re traditionally performed on Broadway.
Yet, his practicing paid off. Each one of his solo performances in the “Ring of Fire” was followed by thunderous applause, beginning with an age appropriate rendition of “Straight A’s in Love” and concluding with a heart swooning performance of “Cry, Cry, Cry.” Mid-show, Curry portrays Johnny’s brother, Jack, who died tragically at age 12 in a sawmill accident, and accompanies Jack’s mother, played by Mandy Wildman, in singing “Far Side Banks of Jordan,” as they bemoan the loss of young Jack.
“On stage, I feel like a complete person,” Curry said. “When I’m not on stage, I feel lost. I think this is what I was meant to do – pick songs, sing and write my own stuff.”
One day, Curry hopes to travel to Nashville and make his debut at the Grand Ole Opry.
In the meantime, he’s already asked Lloyd about the possibility of starring as Johnny Cash in a HART production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” a Broadway musical recounting a famous Memphis recording session with four legendary singers.
“If you can find me an Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins,” Lloyd joked, “we can do the show.”
Want to go?
“Ring of Fire” at HART, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville
7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15
3 p.m. Sunday
$24 for adults, $20 for seniors, $12 for students