A few years ago, Isaac Hopkins was browsing Wikipedia when he came across an entry for the 1969 “Jimmy Carter UFO Incident.” As many people presumably would, Hopkins found the notion of the then-gubernatorial candidate seeing a UFO in Leary, Georgia, before addressing a Lions Club International meeting hilarious. His next reaction was a little less conventional: “This could be a musical.”
Hopkins’s show Jimmy! A Musical Fable with Almost No Historical Basis will premiere off-Broadway this month at the Irondale Center in New York’s Brooklyn Arts District. The musical portrays Carter as a peacemaker and highlights his environmental beliefs. In the show, the ex-president travels via time machine to prove the UFO sighting was real.
“That’s what we’re looking for—characters who believe so strongly in something that they’re willing to do anything,” says Hopkins, a University of Georgia junior who met Carter during a visit to Plains as a child.
Hopkins staged an early version of Jimmy! in August 2013 at the Northeast Georgia Stage Actors’ Guild, the Gainesville theater company he cofounded in 2012. Doug Carter, Jimmy Carter’s cousin, played the former president in the one-night show, which sold out in forty-eight hours.
Hopkins then submitted the play in a contest sponsored by the National Theatre for Student Artists. He submits plays so often that he forgot about the application—until he missed five calls from a New York number a month later. He finally called back and learned that he had won. Jimmy! was going to New York.
“I was just on air for several days after that, and I guess I still am,” Hopkins says.
Hopkins plans to extend an invitation to Carter for the premiere, but he isn’t counting on the former commander in chief taking a spot in the audience.
This article originally appeared in our August 2014 issue under the headline “Jimmy Carter’s Close Encounter.”