Hallelujah, It’s Heavenly!!

Keith Patrick McCoy (Front) stars in ‘Cotton Patch Gospel’. Back row (L to R): Isiah Harper, Michelle Justice, Dean Justice, Justin Belew, Jeff Snider

If a man tried to take his time on Earth and prove before he died what one man’s life could be worth, well I wonder what would happen to this world?  Find the answer to this question in Cotton Patch Gospel by Tom Key and Russell Treyz with music and lyrics by Harry Chapin.  It is currently playing at Springer Opera House.

It’s no secret that this is one of my favorite shows.  This is the fourth time I’ve reviewed a version of this musical and I’m always discovering something new based on the storytelling of each cast.  However, I was particularly looking forward to this version as it would be the first time I would see it performed under its original intentions (one actor playing all the roles and backed by a bluegrass band). 

I was not disappointed.

This is a beautiful show for the Easter season and I salute the cast for an energetic and fun-filled night plus give them further kudos for showing great poise as the weather looked like it was turning a little inclement for this outdoor production.

I’ve always appreciated Key & Treyz’s script for its wonderful worshipfulness and clarity.  They do an excellent job of taking the Gospel of Matthew, modernizing it and making it completely understandable to any and all regardless of one’s faith background. In this take, Jesus is born in Atlanta, raised in Valdosta and lynched for the sins of humanity.  Key and Treyz were able to take the most important points of the Gospel and translate it into a 90 minute show that never feels rushed or edited.

Paul Pierce provides very strong direction as he’s guided his lone actor to an impressive performance with a sure and solid hand.  The animation is constant and there’s nary a static moment in the show.  I was also quite pleased with the staging as it had the feeling of an old-time revival show.

Keith Patrick McCoy expertly handles an awesome burden as he plays everybody.  On a scale of 1 to 10, his energy hovered around 15 and he effortlessly transformed himself into several dozen characters with changes in posture and modulation of his angelic baritone.  Some of his great performances included his rendition of the show’s narrator, Matthew, the former IRS man whose respect and love for Jesus is palpable; his sincere and humble Jesus; the conflicted Jud who betrays the Son of God; a smarmy and hypocritical televangelist hyping faith cruises to the Holy Land and Hong Kong; a malevolent Herod bent on killing Jesus to retain his throne; a surprisingly sinister Pontius Pilate who engineers Jesus’ murder.  Last, but certainly not least, I give a personal standing ovation to McCoy’s interpretation of John the Baptizer as he finally gave me the Baptizer I’ve long wanted to see in the form of a blood and guts, fire and brimstone preacher. 

McCoy’s singing is every bit as good as his acting and it always suited the character singing the song. Favorite performances were his Jesus humorously teaching His followers to treat others the way they would want to be treated in “Turn It Around” and agonizing over His impending death in “Goin’ to Atlanta”.  He also has stellar turns as Herod cold-bloodedly admitting “I Did It” when he has an orphanage bombed in an attempt to kill Jesus and as Matthew explaining the takeover plan he and the Apostles cooked up for Jesus in “We Gotta Get Organized”.

The only critique I had was that I thought McCoy could have taken a beat when he transitioned characters and seemed to rush his lines on a few occasions, but I’m going to qualify that by saying he may have been forced to move a little faster due to the weather. 

McCoy was ably supported by a bluegrass band who serves as a second character in the production.  They play all the instruments, sing the bulk of the songs and sometimes stepped in as minor characters.  Justin Belew and Jeff Snider dazzled on guitar and banjo.  Dean Justice was flawless on the stand up bass and his low tenor voice excelled on the somber “Are We Ready?”  Michelle Justice did some fine fiddling and had a lovely solo in “Mama Is Here”.  Isiah Harper was a strong featured vocalist especially in “Something Brewing in Gainesville” and “You Are Still My Boy”.

Debbie Anderson’s musical direction was right on the money as she understood the nuances of Chapin’s score and correctly emphasized its humor and gravitas where needed.  I loved Matthew Swindell’s less is more set of a simple backdrop, table and boxes.  Katie Underwood’s lights were absolutely phenomenal and bolstered key emotional points especially the blue light on Jesus in “Goin’ to Atlanta” and the red and black of Jesus’ lynching.  Sandy Dawson’s costumes were top notch with McCoy’s dapper brown suit and the plaid shirts and overalls of the band.

So if you’re looking for some family entertainment this Easter season, spend some time in the cotton patch with this wonderful cast and story and find out why Cotton Patch Gospel is “The Greatest Story Ever Retold”.

Cotton Patch Gospel plays at Springer Opera House through April 3.  Remaining live performances are April 2 at 8pm and April 3 at 2:30pm.  Livestream performances will be held April 1-3 at 8pm (EST) and a matinee performance at 2:30pm (EST) on April 3.  Tickets range from $20-$38 and can be obtained by calling the Box Office at 706-327-3688 or visiting www.springeroperahouse.org.  Springer Opera House is located at 103 10th St in Columbus, GA.

Photo provided by Allie Kent

Springer Opera House Announces ‘Theatre Under the Stars’

Columbus, GA–Citizens will see an outdoor theatre going up on the corner of Tenth Street and Second Avenue downtown over the next six weeks as the Springer Opera House creates an innovative way to protect their audiences and artists this spring.

“COVID transmission rates are inching downward in Muscogee County but patrons aren’t quite ready to gather indoors yet,” said Springer producing artistic director Paul Pierce.  “We anticipate a continued downward trend as the weather warms and the impact of the vaccines takes hold.  Meanwhile, this amphitheatre will give patrons a quality theatre experience designed for safety.”

The Springer has repackaged its remaining shows as the “Springer Theatre Festival” and designed a comfortable fresh-air performance space with distanced seating, an outdoor lighting system and advanced video projection equipment, allowing the theatre to produce shows on a broad, thirty-two foot stage right next to the 150 year-old historic theatre.

Pierce explained, “We’ve adjusted the calendar a bit and scheduled seven shows between mid-March and late June. Six of those shows are musicals.  Columbus Consolidated Government has been very supportive in helping us work through the permitting and rules to be able to pull this off.  I’m very grateful to Mayor Henderson and City staff for all their encouragement.”

The first production in the Springer Theatre Festival will be a remount of Singin’ in the Rain which had to be cancelled when the pandemic hit last spring.  That show will kick off the Springer Theatre Festival on March 18.

Theatre lovers will also have the option of seeing shows via web streaming, if they prefer.

Masks will be required to be worn by patrons. Temperature checks and social distancing will also be required.  

Singin in the Rain – Broadway song-and-dance musical based on the film classic.

March 18, 19, 20, 26, 27, 28, April 1, and 3 at 8pm 

March 21st at 2:30PM

Cotton Patch Gospel – The story of Jesus set in modern-day rural Georgia. Bluegrass musical.

March 24, 25, and April 2 at 8pm 

March 27, 28 and April 3 at 2:30PM

Click Clack Moo – Children’s Theatre musical comedy about cows who demand blankets.

April 10 and 17 at 10am / 12:30pm / 2pm 

April 11 and 18 at 2pm

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – The Broadway musical set at the famous Chicken Ranch Texas brothel.

April 29,30 May 1, 6, 7, and 8 at 8pm 

May 2 and 9 at 2:30PM

Planes Trains and Things that Go Zoom – Theatre for the Very Young show about transportation

(In the backyard plaza)

May 1 and 8 at 10am / 12:30pm / 2pm

Curious George and the Golden Meatball –  Children’s Theatre show about the mischievous monkey who enters a cooking contest in Rome, Italy.

May 28 and June 4 at 7pm

May 29, June 5, and 12 at 10am 

May 29,30 June 12 and 13 at 2pm

Spamalot – Hilarious Broadway musical comedy based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

June 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26 at 8pm 

June 27 at 2:30PM

Billy McGuigan Founds McGuigan Arts Academy & Announces Omaha Series

Omaha, NE–Super talent Billy McGuigan, known for bringing Buddy Holly and The Beatles to life on stage, announced the opening of McGuigan Arts Academy, a new twist on performing arts education and venues. The Academy’s mission is devoted to teaching life skills through hands-on studies in music, theatre, film, art and technology. Acknowledging that not every student of the arts wants to be a performer, McGuigan Arts Academy will nurture and showcase Omaha’s talent in every artistic realm. 

“If this year taught us anything, it’s the need to connect and nurture one’s soul,” said founder Billy McGuigan. “Art is essential to that. How we create and present that art can be done in many ways. There is nothing else like this in the Midwest. McGuigan Arts Academy is designed to give anyone – from age 3 to 103 – the opportunity to learn confidence, cooperation and creativity. It’s more than development of talent. It’s development of the human spirit. Believe me, there is nothing more important than being the best person you can be. The arts have taught me that.”

McGuigan Arts Academy classes will be taught by full-time professionals led by Artistic and Education Director Kimberly Faith Hickman. “Kimberly is this mega talent in our midst,” said McGuigan. “A rare Broadway-accredited director, she honed her talent working on numerous Tony Award winning and nominated Broadway shows.”

In addition to the Academy, Rave On Productions will launch The Omaha Series; a season of shows presented in various venues across the Omaha Metro. The 2021 Omaha Series includes Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Waiting Room, Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story performed one night each at the Davies Amphitheatre, SumTur Amphitheatre and Soaring Wings Vineyard, The Rocky Horror Show and the McGuigan’s holiday tradition, Yesterday and Today, performed at the Slowdown.

Hickman most recently served as Artistic Director for the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). In her nearly five years there, she directed 19 productions and launched initiatives such as the OCP Directing Fellowship, sensory-friendly productions in collaboration with the Autism Action Partnership, and performances translated into Spanish in real-time. Her latest innovations, including Drive-In and virtual productions, assured that the show would go on.

“The pandemic helped me see endless possibilities for programming experiences – especially when I let myself break free from the traditional norms in theatre,” said Hickman. “Creating a production in a parking lot was really inspiring. We took a bold chance and before long, we had a sell out!”

Hickman and McGuigan agree that it was this collaboration during their days together at the Omaha Community Playhouse and the discovery that they both learned to love theatre via the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia, that drew them together as co-visionaries for McGuigan Arts Academy.

“Our biggest revelation,” said McGuigan, “is that performance is a gift from performer to audience. Where that happens should be less tied to one space and more tied to access and an environment that blends with the creative product.”

“In addition to a myriad of classes,” added Hickman, “we will be casting and rehearsing four productions that will be performed at venues across Omaha including The Waiting Room in Benson, Sumtur Amphitheatre, The Slowdown and more.

McGuigan Arts Academy is located in Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific Streets. Thanks in part to generous sponsors, the Academy will offer class scholarships to those from across the greater Omaha metro who may not have the means to pay for them.

For more information, contact Kate Whitecotton at 402-682-2868 and kate@billymcguigan.com.  For class and Academy schedules and to learn more, see McGuiganArtsAcademy.com. For The Omaha Series visit www.billymcguigan.com/theomahaseries.