Columbus, GA–Dubbed “The Greatest Story Ever Re-Told,” Cotton Patch Gospel is the exuberant musical that tells the story of the life of Jesus, but set in modern-day, rural Georgia. Jesus is born the son of a carpenter in Gainesville, meets a country preacher named John the Baptizer on the banks of the Chattahoochee and delivers the Sermon on the Mount on Stone Mountain.
The show will run as part of the Springer Opera House’s Outdoor Theatre Festival along with other musicals and children’s theatre shows. Opening March 24 in the newly-built Springer amphitheater, Cotton Patch Gospel arrives just in time for the Easter season.
“In this season of renewal, rebirth, and hope, Cotton Patch Gospel is just what the world needs right now,” explained Springer producing artistic director Paul Pierce. “With music by the late, great Harry Chapin (Cat’s in the Cradle, Taxi) Cotton Patch Gospel is marked by a feeling of childlike belief, wonder and simple reverence.”
“We all remember the Sunday school lesson where the teacher asked, “What if Jesus were born today? How would you react?” This show takes that simple question and brings it to life,” Pierce said.
The script was adapted from the Rev. Clarence Jordan’s book “Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John” by Tom Key and Russell Treyz. Tom Key was the long-time artistic director of The Theatrical Outfit in Atlanta who recently retired. Mr. Key collaborated with Grammy Hall of Fame honoree, Harry Chapin – one of the most beloved singer-songwriters in music history – to create the songs for Cotton Patch Gospel. Chapin won Grammy Awards in the 1970s for chart-topping hits like Cat’s in the Cradle, Taxi, Dreams Go By, W.O.L.D. and Sunday Morning Sunshine.
Connection to Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing
“Cotton Patch” author Rev. Clarence Jordan was a farmer who grew up in nearby Talbotton, Georgia, and sought to improve the lives of sharecroppers through scientific farming techniques. He was ordained at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and obtained a Ph.D. in Greek New Testament in 1938. In 1942, Jordan and his wife, Florence, founded Koinonia Farm, a 440-acre interracial farming community near Americus, Georgia. As the Civil Rights Movement progressed, Koinonia Farm became the target of boycotts, violence, and bombings.
In the 1960s, as hostilities subsided in Sumter County, Jordan turned his attention to writing and speaking. Through his expertise in New Testament Greek, Jordan translated the Synoptic Gospels using homespun language that his Southern audiences could relate to. Thus, Jerusalem became Atlanta, Pontius Pilate became the Governor of Georgia and Bethlehem became Gainesville.
In 1965, two millionaires, Millard and Linda Fuller, from Lanett, Alabama, became dissatisfied with their wealthy and privileged lifestyle and moved to Koinonia Farm to serve Rev. Jordan’s mission. The partnership resulted in the founding of Habitat for Humanity in 1976 and later, the Fuller Center for Housing. Fuller is internationally regarded as the founder of the affordable housing movement.
The Springer Production
Cotton Patch Gospel stars Keith Patrick McCoy as the apostle Matthew, who tells the story of Jesus’ life: birth to death to Resurrection. Harry Chapin’s songs span musical styles from country to blues to folk to Gospel to bluegrass to jazz. The on-stage band is comprised of Michelle Justice, Justin Belew, Isiah Harper, Dean Justice and Jeff Snider. Pierce is the director of the show.
Cotton Patch Gospel runs March 24, 25, April 2 at 8:00 pm and March 27, 28, and April 3 at 2:30 pm. For tickets, call the Springer box office at 706-327-3688 or visit the Springer website at springeroperahouse.org. Group rates are available for churches, youth groups, and senior groups.
Photo provided by Allie Kent