Photo: Joan Marcus


  • HR

  • NBC

  • AMNY

Opening Night:
July 16, 2015
October 25, 2015

Theater: Nederlander Theatre / 208 West 41st Street, New York, NY, 10036


A tale of romance, rebellion and redemption, the show follows one man whose incredible journey ignited a historic wave of change that gave birth to the abolitionist movement. John Newton, a willful and musically talented young Englishman, faces a future as uncertain as the turning tide. Coming of age as Britain sits atop an international empire of slavery, he finds himself torn between following in the footsteps of his father—a slave trader—and embracing the more compassionate views of his childhood sweetheart.


    ‘Amazing Grace,’ the Story of a Slave Trader’s Moral Awakening

    Charles Isherwood

    July 16, 2015: The timing is fortunate for “Amazing Grace,” a Broadway musical about the unusual life story of the man who wrote the lyrics for that classic hymn. President Obama ended his stirring eulogy for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a victim of last month’s gruesome killings in a South Carolina church, by singing the song, a last-minute inspiration that made for an affecting viral media moment after a year (and more) of disturbing racial violence. The hymn, which many associate with African-American culture and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, was written in the 18th century by John Newton, an Englishman who worked in the slave-trading business. Make a beeline for the Nederlander Theater, where the show, with a score by a musical theater newcomer, Christopher Smith, and a book by Mr. Smith and Arthur Giron, opened on Thursday. The peculiar story of Newton’s life forms the spine of the musical, which traces the gradual moral awakening that led to his conversion from a trafficker in human flesh to a deeply religious writer of hymns. Unfortunately, while aspects of Newton’s tale are indeed noteworthy, maybe even amazing, the musical itself unfolds as an overstuffed history lesson trimmed in melodrama, with a standard-issue romantic subplot and some dutiful attempts to explore the lives of the slaves (although the focus remains squarely and maybe a little uncomfortably on the British characters).


    Amazing Grace: Theater review

    David Cote

    July 16, 2015: In 18th-century England, the scion of a slave-trading family works in the business for years, then has a crisis of conscience, repudiates the evil practice and becomes a man of God and an ardent abolitionist. Later in life, he writes the classic soul-lifting hymn “Amazing Grace.” Could be the basis of a rich historical drama about sin and redemption, right? Sadly, a complete showbiz neophyte decided to turn it into a Les Miz–style melodrama, and the crude result has been buffed to a high sheen by a talented cast and crew with $16 million at their disposal. If only some of that filthy lucre had gone to script doctors and ghostwriters instead. Newcomer Christopher Smith, formerly a suburban Philadelphia police officer, is clearly inspired by the story of John Newton, the aforementioned sailor who turned away from human trafficking and toward God. But he and book cowriter Arthur Giron deliver little more than a clunky period piece broken up by bombastic, generic anthems. We know how this story will end (it’s the title!), so a great deal of time is spent watching the suffering of abducted Africans and the posturing of English caricatures. As Newton, Josh Young has a sterling, ringing tenor, but his character is annoyingly passive and shrill. The majestic Chuck Cooper brings every ounce of humor and dignity to bear on his invented role, the servant Thomas, steering it a hairsbreadth away from Magical Negro territory.


    Josh Young stars in this new musical inspired by the life of the reformed sinner who composed the beloved hymn

    David Rooney

    July 16, 2015: There's no questioning the sincerity of Amazing Grace, which recounts the true story of the penitent slave trader who penned that popular hymn. This ambitious new musical braves a Broadway landscape in which matters of faith tend to be filtered through irreverent satire — think The Book of Mormon, Hand to God, An Act of God — instead weaving an earnest drama of redemption grounded in forgiveness both human and divine. However, while the tale of oppression and liberation ultimately climbs stirring peaks, it's symptomatic of the show's problems that its most vibrant and compelling character is a regal African mercenary who dishonors her ancestors through the heartless exploitation of her people. The resonance of "Amazing Grace" for Americans was deepened in June, when President Obama ended his eulogy at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston, South Carolina, with a solo of the hymn, bringing mourners to their feet in the wake of the shocking white-supremacist gun violence that had claimed nine lives. Heartfelt sentiments relating to the nation's shameful history of slavery and racism no doubt contribute to get audience members standing at the conclusion of this musical, as the full ensemble's voices unite in an uplifting rendition of the title song. But that emotional release is a long time coming in a 2½-hour show in which the stories of the secondary black characters are invariably more involving than those of the blandly drawn, white central figures.

  • NBC NEW YORK REVIEW OF Amazing Grace

    'Grace' Traces Path of Slave Trader Who Would Write a Celebrated Hymn

    Robert Kahn

    July 16, 2015: A one-time Pennsylvania police officer and Broadway newcomer is the composer and lyricist of “Amazing Grace,” an earnest and well-intentioned original musical about the creation of the famous Christian hymn by British poet John Newton. More to the point, “Amazing Grace” focuses on Newton as a bratty young man in the 1740s, when he was truly the self-proclaimed “wretch” of that hymn’s first stanza. The spiritual -- recently sung by the president at a eulogy for the Charleston shooting victims -- isn’t heard until the musical’s final moments. Now open at the Nederlander, “Amazing Grace” stars Josh Young (“Jesus Christ Superstar”) as Newton and Chuck Cooper (“The Life”) as his slave, Thomas. Christopher Smith is the ambitious cop-turned-playwright who has shepherded “Amazing Grace” through a 7-year journey, including two out-of-town runs.

  • AM NEW YORK REVIEW OF Amazing Grace

    Amazing Grace Broadway review

    Matt Windman

    July 16, 2015: On the heels of President Barack Obama breaking into "Amazing Grace" during a eulogy, a well-meant but embarrassingly uninteresting musical depicting the life saga of the hymn's writer has opened. Watching it, you keep thinking, "How in the world did this get to Broadway?" Although it culminates in a beautiful choral rendition of the title song, the rest of the score is by former police officer and Broadway novice Christopher Smith. John Newton (played with vigor by Josh Young) is a young 18th century English merchant whose family business is the slave trade. In the musical's most chilling moment, newly arrived slaves are brutally pulled out of a cage for a public auction and then branded. Somehow or other, Newton is plucked away from his virtuous girlfriend (a pouting Erin Mackey) and disapproving father (a starch Tom Hewitt) and conscripted into the navy, accompanied only by his slave Thomas (the characteristically excellent Chuck Cooper).



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