by DICK KEREKES
The Foundation Academy completed a two week run of Cotton Patch Gospel, the greatest story ever retold on May 10. I was out of town and unable to review the first weekend, but this was an exceptional production and deserved to be reviewed.
In 1982 folk singer Harry Chapin (of Cats in the Cradle fame), created the music and lyrics for this show, and Tom Key and Russel Treyz the book. Cotton Patch Gospel is a respectful retelling of the Matthew and John Gospels, set in the modern South while accompanied by bluegrass music.
Foundation used paid musicians Walter Hill, Chelsae Chason, Abby Mills and Alan Dalton to play the guitar, bass, fiddle and Banjo to form the excellent Cotton Patch Band.
This is the first time I had seen this show and this was the Jacksonville premiere to my knowledge. How to describe it? Do I call it a hoedown, a hootenanny, a toe-tapping and hand clapping, celebration? Why not all of three and more?
This musical is quite often done as a one person show, with musicians and a varied number for the chorus. Foundation Artist Director Madaline Hill and Choreographer Kellina Chavoustie used a very unique approach. They cast 28 students of the school with 20% of them on the stage for the first time. The show is very fast paced and probably had 40 scenes that were done with precision by these young actors. I unofficially counted fifteen different actors playing Jesus in various scenes, which had to have been a thrill and inspiration for them.
The show is the story of Jesus’ life, which is familiar to most everyone, except this one has a twist. Jesus is born in Gainesville, Georgia, a virgin birth to Mary and “Joe”. Herod is the governor of Georgia, and has heard that Jesus is dangerous and sets out to kill the babies in the land. In the betrayal scene, it is a disciple named Jud not Judas that turns in Jesus. I think you get the idea. There is a lot of humor in the interpretation but Jesus’ familiar lessons come through loud and clear: like sharing your possessions, turning the other cheek, love over violence and being respectful of nature.
Three Foundation seniors, Jacob Watson, Jennifer Brady, and Natalie Fernandez act as narrators,
Matthew, Martha and Sarah. There were many individual solos as well as robust ensemble numbers, with some songs as short as a minute or two. The program did not have the song titles listed but I figured out a few of the more catchy ones like “Ain’t No Busy Signals on the Hot Line to God”, “When Someone Wops You Upside Your Head, Turn to the Other Side” and “It Isn’t Easy Growing Up To Be Jesus”. Probably the most intriguing song of the evening was “You Are Still My Boy”, a duet sung by Emily Butler and David Medina. It was well rehearsed and performed in an excellent style.
The performances were in the new TFA Black Box on their new campus on South San Pablo Road. The space has about 1,000 square feet and is very adaptable for any of the many different activities of the school. Sound Designer and Set Designer Greg Stites (assisted by Joe Harris) had most of the students amplified which worked quite well for the most part, especially for the younger voices still growing to their full potential. The set had a frame outline of a church, with platforms and boxes and lots of wide open spaces to dance. Apparently thrift shops in the area did some business from this show, as the costumes, were mainly “country”, with lots of plaids and jeans, and were coordinated by the Director and Beth Harwood.
If you missed this show, you missed a good one. I was impressed by the teamwork involved in the scene changes since all twenty eight of the actors were on stage at least 60% of the time and constantly moving from area to area. I hope another group will do The Cotton Patch Gospel again in the future.
In fact, I have an idea I would like to see come to fruition in the coming years. I would love to see a Religious Musical Festival, with four churches or schools each doing one of the following plays on a different weekend in the same month. Imagine seeing, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, The Cotton Patch Gospel and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat all in the same month!!!
Thanks Foundation for a fun and inspiring evening of theatre, looking forward to next year.
CAST: Angela Bonfiglio, Cassidy Butler, Emily Butler, Patrice Carter, Derek Cayood, Greta Clark, Robbie Crane, Lalonnie Dames, Miranda Evans, Allie Harwood, David Hosmun, Teandra Key, Karina LaMoureaux, Kelly Lynch, Josh Matos, David Medina, Courtney Mollock, Frank Moses, Deonna Phelps, Spencer Sadler, Michael Salmon, Bianca Sanchez, Ellie Watts, and Jerak Wright.
CREW: Peyton Enfinger, Morgan Ivy, Danielle Murray, Eli Retma, Melvn Reynolds, and Caitlyn Richardson
Cotton Patch Gospel
by DICK KEREKES