“Cotton Patch Gospel,” a musical production of the gospels of Matthew and John, is coming to The Varsity Center in Carbondale and bringing with it a cast hand-picked by the co-director, Granger Odum.
“Our cast is comprised of eight teenagers and two adults,” Odum said. “Their camaraderie and chemistry onstage is amazing. Everyone onstage is a student or colleague of mine, and they were hand-selected for the gifts and energy that they would bring to certain roles.”
“Every time this cast sets out to tell this story, they bring something fresh and new,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
“Cotton Patch Gospel” is a musical production written by Tom Key and Russell Treyz in the early 1980s, based on Clarence Jordan’s 1970 book, “The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John.” The production features the music and lyrics of renowned folk singer Harry Chapin, his last major work before his death in 1981.
It’s a re-telling of the gospels set in present-day rural Georgia, presented with a decidedly down-home and comedic tone. But it doesn’t shy away from issues of racism, persecution and white supremacy.
“Jordan saw the deep systemic roots of racism and poverty running through our society and immediately drew the parallel to the gospels,” Odum said. “That is the beauty of this show. The fabulous energy and humor present in most of the show merely serve to tell the story in an accessible and digestible manner.”
The play is essentially a one-man show with a cast of musicians fleshing out many of the Biblical characters. Chris Herron plays Jesus.
“He is bringing something amazing to this role,” said Odum. “He understands the importance of what Jesus has to say, but plays Jesus with a brilliant humanity and vulnerability.”
Odum said that he and his co-director, Zach Stout, were given a lot of freedom to bring their vision to life.
“We were struck by how important the messages present in this show are to our current society,” he said. “As white supremacy seems to become more normalized, this story seems all too real.”
Adding to the entertainment value exponentially are Harry Chapin’s songs, including “You are Still my Boy” and “Jubilation.” The narrative is accompanied by a lively band of bluegrass musicians known as the Cotton Pickers.
“Bluegrass is all about the balance of simplicity and complexity,” Odum said. “Chapin does this beautifully in this score. The harmonies are strong and really draw in the listener.
“This show is really fun, but audiences will leave affected,” he said. “This show will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you think. We hope to see you there.”