Take the familiar stories of of the New Testament, add some contemporary tunes and you might have Jesus Christ Superstar or Godspell. But you’re on the Showboat Majestic this month, so it’s Cotton Patch Gospel, which transplants Jesus and his disciples to a caricatured version of the American South in the early 1970s.
Cotton Patch Gospel is based on a 1971 retelling of the Gospel of Matthew by Clarence Jordan, with music by singer-songwriter Harry Chapin written just before his death in a car accident in 1981.
Once you get the filter — the opening number is a high-speed Bluegrass song, “Somethin’s Brewin’ in Gainesville” — you pretty much know what’s coming for the next two hours. Actor Mike Hall plays John the Baptist as a revival-styled preacher; Herod and Pilate are corrupt politicians. It’s a cornpone congregation with mostly lighthearted moralizing. (The show avoids a maudlin recreation of the crucifixion; we learn that Jesus is lynched but don’t witness it.)
Cotton Patch Gospel continues through July 25 on the Showboat Majestic on downtown's central riverfront.
Go here to read Rick Pender's full review and to get show and theater details.