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