‘Cotton Patch’ kicks off Croswell Broadway seasonWritten by Renee Lapham Collins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The “Greatest Story Ever Told” has been recounted in various forms over the past two millennia and, in 1981, popular folk singer Harry Chapin penned the music and lyrics to “The Cotton Patch Gospel,” a musical written by Tom Key and Russell Treyz, based on Clarence Jordan’s book, “The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John.”
The musical kicks off the Croswell Opera House 2012 season with performances April 13-15 and Sunday, April 15. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. for Friday and Saturday performances. Matinee performances are at 2:30 p.m. April 14-15. Tickets are $28 for adults, $25 for students and seniors and $15 for children 12 and under. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling (517) 264-SHOW (265-7469) or at the door.
The familiar stories of the Bible are transplanted to rural Georgia, with Gainesville as a stand-in for Bethlehem, Valdosta for Nazareth and Atlanta for Jerusalem.
Director Joyce Cameron of Clinton, Mich., said she first saw the film a few years back.
“At first, I thought it was the strangest, hokiest thing I’d ever seen, but it grew on me,” she said. “When I found out the Croswell was producing this show, I asked who was directing. They said they didn’t know so I suggested myself.”
She got the job. Cameron said she loves the Passion story and “I wanted to help tell this quirky version.”
The music of Harry Chapin also drew Cameron to the production.
“I have always loved Harry Chapin and folk music,” she said. “This is the bluegrass ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’”
Imagine the Gospel of Matthew set in Georgia in the 1960s and all of the possibilities for character interaction and that is “Cotton Patch Gospel,” according to Cameron.
“We held auditions at the Croswell and decided to take all those who could read and sing well, regardless of their looks,” Cameron said. “This is a show that needs a wide variety of people, looks and ages.”
“Cotton Patch Gospel” is James Hanley’s third Croswell production. A political science professor at Adrian College, Hanley toured with a college drama group when he was attending Greenville College in Illinois, but had not performed in more than 20 years when he landed a role in “Of Mice and Men” in 2009.
Johanna Hanley has been in five Croswell shows and had no professional theater experience.
“My only stage experience was in college and community choruses,” she said. “I became interested in being onstage after I was working at the Croswell and volunteered to be part of the chorus in ‘A Christmas Carol’ when they needed more adults. It was so much fun, I wanted to do more.”
The Hanleys’ three daughters, Olivia, 14; Ivy, 10; and Ava, 9, are joining their parents onstage.
“They all have been onstage at the Croswell before and have small roles in this production,” Johanna said.
Cameron, a music teacher at Clinton Community Schools for the past 22 years, earned her bachelor’s degree in music from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and her master’s degree in music education from Western Michigan University.
“My theater background is all experiential,” she said. “I started out performing in musicals in junior high and have continued right up until recently.”
Cameron has four children. Her youngest is playing Young Jesus in the show, one of a handful of actors playing multiple roles throughout the production.
Also in the cast are James Swendsen of Adrian as Jesus and Mark Hyre of Tecumseh as Matthew. Josie and Michelle Miller and Rick and Barb Vaught of Adrian and Margaret Hyre, Charlie Steffens and Marianne Steffens of Tecumseh round out the cast. The bluegrass band for the show, which joins the cast onstage and gets involved in the action, is led by David Rains of Adrian on keyboard, Amy Marr of Britton on fiddle, Nate Bagby and Jeremy Blaska of Tecumseh on guitar, Chris Livesay of Saline on bass and Mark Palms of Manchester on banjo. Rains is the show’s music director.