Audiences learn "somethin's a-brewin' in Gainesville," Georgia, from the opening song in the musical "Cotton Patch Gospel." They quickly find out that "something" is a biography they might be quite familiar with: the story of Jesus Christ.
Lighthouse Preparatory Academy's production of "Cotton Patch Gospel" March 8-10 and 15-17 at Stained Glass Theatre reprises this popular musical, which retells the story of Jesus in rural, modern-day Georgia. Written by Tom Key and Russell Treyz with music from Harry Chapin for the stage, "Cotton Patch Gospel" greatly differs from the original telling of the biblical gospels in setting and styling, but the plot structure and message of the story stay true to its origins.
"It is light-hearted, fast-moving, funny and has lots of music, singing and dancing," said Zoe Kelling, who is co-directing the musical with her husband Bryce. "I love that the kids added their own flavor, knowing what they would think is funny and adding that to their production of the musical. They have done a great job."
Koelling said the 18 Lighthouse Preparatory Academy students involved in the production also were allowed creative license to mold the musical into what they pictured the setting for "Cotton Patch Gospel" to be.
"They came up with a campground. Others have portrayed that differently, and it does leave it wide open. So we have used some vintage RVs, fun colors, flamingo lights and lots of great props to decorate the set," Koelling said. "The gospel story is played out sitting around at the campground, starring Jesus (played by Levi Martens) and narrated by Matthew (Jared Deutsch)."
Music is at the heart of the production. For the first time Lighthouse Preparatory Academy has partnered with Stained Glass Theatre to present a theatrical performance the last four years, a live bluegrass band will provide that accompaniment. The band includes Connie Hohman on fiddle, John Sommelier on mandolin, Mark Howard on guitar, Dale Wilkes on banjo, Tom Mangan on bass and Bryce Koelling on percussion.
"The kids really love the music. Having those musicians there and being able to sing with them, they have an appreciation to a different style of music. A couple of the girls love the line dancing in the musical, and they picked it up really quick. The fiddler performs at 54 Country every Saturday night in Fulton, and some of the kids have gone up there to line dance," Koelling said. "I think having these amazing musicians here will draw anybody to this production who is in the bluegrass music world. They have their own following, and hopefully that will bring a different notoriety to Stained Glass Theatre."
Koelling has seen how the cast of sixth- through 12th-grade students not only has practiced since January to put on this production, but has been completely hands-on from the beginning of the process through to its end.
"Cotton Patch Gospel" show times are 7:30 p.m. March 8, 9, 15 and 16 and 2 p.m. March 10 and 17. Tickets are $9 for all shows except opening night, which is $7. For more information or to order tickets, call 573-634-5313 or visit sgtmidmo.org.