Cotton Patch Gospel

Music, Lyrics & Score by Harry Chapin
Book by Tom Key & Russell Treyz
Performed by Mike Nadajewski
Featuring Duncan Cameron, Bobby Prochaska, Mark Stewartson, Danny Williams
Directed by Alex Mustakas
Drayton Entertainmentm Huron Country Playhouse
June 20 to July 1, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Greatest Story Every Re-told

What if Jesus was born today in the southern United States? That interesting premise forms the story of Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical currently on stage at Grand Bend’s Huron Country Playhouse for a short run. Thanks to the talent of Mike Nadajewski in the lead role, this production is both entertaining and uplifting.

Jesus’ disciple, Matthew, narrates the story, which follows the Biblical account found in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Joe Davidson is upset when he finds out that his girlfriend, Mary, is pregnant – he wants his high school football jacket back! But an angel (wearing a three piece suit) tells him not to break up with Mary. Soon they are travelling from their home in Valdosta, Georgia to be audited, and stop at a motel. When the motel’s fully booked, they end up staying in the old trailer parked behind it. The motel owner rolls out an extension cord, to give them some light and their baby, whom they name Jesus, is born.

Nadajewski is in his element playing Matthew and the many other roles this show demands – with a facial change and switch in the tone of his southern drawl, he flips among the 20 or so characters. As well as Matthew (Jesus told him to take notes – hence the Gospel was written), Nadajewski plays Jesus, Simon, Peter (aka Rock), Herod and Pilot (both Governors of Georgia) an assortment of politicians, other naysayers and even TV evangelists. Nadajewski deserves full credit for keeping up the frenzied pace of covering all the roles and doing so with energy to spare.

The music was written by the late, great Harry Chapin – who had such hits as “Taxi” and “Cats in the Cradle”. The songs in this production are typical of Chapin’s interesting style – a little folk mixed with blues, and always with a story to tell. Bringing the music to life are Duncan Cameron who plays Tom (that’s Doubting Thomas in the Biblical version) on fiddle, mandolin, guitar and banjo; Bobby Prochaska as Andy playing bass, Mark Stewartson as Jim on banjo and guitar, and Danny Williams as Jack on guitar. You’ll remember Williams from last summer’s Twist and Shout: The British Invasion at HCP when he sang the showstoppers “House of the Rising Sun” and “ A Whiter Shade of Pale”. The four musicians are excellent and keep the show moving with the lively hand-clapping tunes, while also playing supporting roles.

At first, I was almost uncomfortable, concerned that the show would go a little too far and offend some audience members by becoming sacrilegious. But that never happens. The story stays true to the Bible’s book of Matthew, and none of the jokes are at the expense of Christian gospel. Jesus feeds 5000 people with a few buns and a couple of cans of sardines. He tells the parable of the white insurance salesman who is beat up by thugs and left in the ditch, and while others pass him by, finally a black truck driver saves his life.

Not your average musical theatre fare, Cotton Patch Gospel is a refreshing change and a reminder of why the literature of the New Testament has endured. This show is the retelling of a great story.

Cotton Patch Gospel continues until July 1 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.

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