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‘Stomping good’ show comes to Sutter Street with 'Cotton Patch Gospel'

By: Eileen Wilson, Telegraph Correspondent
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KNOW AND GO
What: “Cotton Patch Gospel”
When:  8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m., Sundays, March 22 - April 14
Where:  Sutter Street Theatre, 717 Sutter Street, Folsom
Info:  (916) 353-1001, sutterstreettheatre.com

If Bible study isn’t for you, or even if it is, you’re in luck. “The Cotton Patch Gospel” is coming to Sutter Street, and the Bible, the Book of Matthew in particular, has never been so much fun.

That’s because director Dave MacDonald is bringing his wildly-popular show to Folsom – a show that he has directed for seven years running throughout the Sacramento area with many of the same cast members.

For those who didn’t catch the show off-Broadway in its infancy in the early 80s, you’re in for quite a ride.

Written by Southern Baptist minister, Clarence Jordan, and adapted to the stage by Atlanta-based actor Tom Key and stage director Russell Treyz, the show is based on the Gospels of Matthew and John, and is set in Atlanta, Georgia, decades ago.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia describes the show as a colloquial translation of most of the New Testament, but MacDonald just calls it a lot of fun. He also said that the show’s storyline is impressive.

“Cotton Patch is much more of a story-type show,” he said. “It’s a retelling of the life story of Jesus as if he were alive in rural Georgia. The book was written in the 60s, and the author uses historical events of that time – Ku Klux Klan, and the Civil Rights Movement, to name a couple, and asks the question, ‘What would Jesus do with what was going on at the time?’”

MacDonald said the story is told from the viewpoint of a group of farmers who are celebrating Jesus’ birth. They are portraying the events as if they were a reality for the farmers at the time.

MacDonald is no stranger to the stage. He has directed the popular “Best of Broadway” for 39 years, has operated the former Broadway Playhouse in Carmichael, and has toured “Cotton Patch” to numerous theaters and churches throughout the last decade.

Though the story of Jesus is a serious one, the play is uplifting and hilarious.

“A lot of the stories and events are very lighthearted in the way they are told,” MacDonald said. “Some people liken the story to ‘Godspell,’ but this isn’t as silly or frolicking of a story.”

In spite of a strong storyline, “Cotton Patch” is driven by music – bluegrass music, to be precise. Music written by the famous composer, Harry Chapin, best known for his song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

“Every few minutes there is a song punctuating the story,” MacDonald said. “Seasoned performer, Sam Williams, a professor in the Theater Department at American River College is our leading man, and the show has won numerous Elly Awards under my direction.”

The show includes plenty of dance numbers with a cast that ranges from young children to older adults.

MacDonald said that he has toured the show in churches, synagogues and non-religious venues – people from all faiths enjoy the show.

Connie Mockenhaupt, Sutter Street’s artistic director, can’t wait for opening night.

“The show is very funny – it’s a really great time. In fact, it’s stomping good fun,” she said.