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Choosing Cotton Patch Gospel for the 11th annual summer show, nobody can accuse Lakeshore Productions, Inc., of staying in a rut, never trying something new and different.
Cotton Patch Gospel tells the story of Jesus with a contemporary Southern twist. So Mary becomes Mary Hagler from Clayton, Ga., and Joseph becomes Joe Davidson, and Nazareth becomes Gainsville, Ga. "a helluva place to be heaven-sent," according to the show's opening number.
The music and lyrics for this show were written by Harry Chapin (1942-81), better known for hit songs such as "Cat's in the Cradle." Playwright Tom Key based the show on the book "The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John" by Rev. Clarence Jordan, a Southern Baptist minister.
There was a cast of 45, including Collin Wallace in the lead role of Jesus, with Duncan Doherty as Matthew the storyteller. Kate Vander Velden portrayed John the Baptist, while Laura Feider was Peter the Rock. Lamar Nohl was cast as the evil Herod, and Satan was portrayed by Brittany Arndt. Nearly every cast member had a line somewhere in the show.
Cotton Patch Gospel was directed by Graham Killeen, while Stefan Petrov was the music director and Hilary Falk the costume designer. A bluegrass band was assembled as the pit orchestra.
It's true that Cotton Patch Gospel had some shock value with audiences. "I wanted a Christ who could come back and have a cup of coffee and a piece of pecan pie," said playwright Key in an interview. "I wanted to go all the way with Jesus being both human and divine."
The Lakeshore Productions, Inc. Board learned that any show involving religion, like the Bible itself, may include its moments of heaven and hell.