“Cotton Patch Gospel” at Taproot Theatre

“Cotton Patch Gospel,” here directed by Karen Lund, is great bluegrass, a whole evening of bluegrass, and, somewhat surprisingly, it is also a retelling of the life of Jesus according to Matthew and John. That makes it an especially appropriate production for this time of year.

But, if you think that the Easter story isn’t one that you need to review, think again. This is a show of such good music, that it has appeal for everyone who likes bluegrass no matter what his or her religious affiliation or lack thereof. Tom Key and Russell Treyz who wrote the text made a special effort of give it universal appeal. It’s filled with humor and delightful updates, one of which is setting the story in contemporary Georgia.


Theresa Holmes, Benjamin Hunter, Randy Scholz, Sam Vance and Edd Key in Cotton Patch Gospel. Photo by John Ulman.

The music and lyrics are by Harry Chapin, and the on-stage musicians are masters of their craft. They include Theresa Holmes on guitar; Benjamin Hunter on fiddle; Edd Key on banjo, guitar, and mandolin; and Sam Vance on bass. They appear to be having such a good time as they make their infectious sound, you, in the audience, can’t help but share their enthusiasm.

The storyteller is Randy Scholz called, significantly, Matthew. In this production, he’s a nice southern boy telling of this strange but significant series of events that took place in Georgia a while ago. Mary, while on her way to Gainesville for a tax audit, went into labor and delivered her boy child in less than ideal circumstances. As he grew into manhood his life was filled with amazing phenomena.

The athletic, clever, intense, and funny Scholz, in a bravura performance, delivers parables that match the Georgia setting. Just imagine how the water-into-wine story might play out in Georgia. And think of Jesus being lynched rather than crucified.

Taproot has a long history with this play. The company worked to help playwright Tom Key develop its initial iteration back in the 1980s. As it was refined, it morphed into the musical we see today. Taproot’s connection with the work continued. The company produced it in 1994 and again in 2001. Now it’s back, and I defy you to keep your toes from tapping or your feet from stomping as you are surrounded with its irresistible sounds.

Through April 23 at Taproot Theatre 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9705 or www.taproottheatre.org).

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