One of many ‘Best Memories’ from my time in New York City this summer was getting to see the new Broadway musical AMAZING GRACE. WOW! If you are headed to NYC and you can only see one musical, then please make sure to see this one! Before we went on tour my friend Debby and I pre-purchased tickets to the popular musical Matilda for our day off, but when we later discovered we would have time to see a matinee, I scrambled for last-minute deals.
That’s when I discovered Amazing Grace.
I was excited to see that a Musical Play had been created from the miraculous and inspiring life story of John Newton – a man destined to change world history, and the author of arguably the most famous hymn in all liturgy. I had loved the 2006 movie Amazing Grace, so with that as my reference, I knew the dramatic true-life story of a British human-trafficker turned convert-abolitionist was perfect for a theatrical retelling – and as a musical, even better!
The road to Broadway for this musical came via Chicago, where the show was a critical success and brought audiences to their feet in joyful tears each night. I couldn’t wait to see this show. I just hoped my high expectations would not lead to disappointment.
I have to mention the TodayTix app I used. I was apprehensive because after purchasing your tickets on the app you’re told to meet someone outside of the theater doors (“on the left side”) who will hand them to you in an envelope. This sounded a bit too ‘cloak and dagger’ (i.e. ‘scam’) to me. But after scoping out some reviews online I felt reassured it was legit, so we went for it – and I’m sure glad we did! We scored prime $139 front balcony seats for only $60. When we arrived at the theater 30 minutes prior to curtain, there was our smiling little TodayTix rep in her red TodayTix shirt with our tickets in hand as promised.
This was Sunday, June 28 – Day 3 of “Previews” for Amazing Grace. I learned that when a Broadway show is in it’s final weeks before grand opening they do approximately two weeks of “preview” shows. This is the time to perform with a live audience without the pressure of professional critics in the house and a chance to work out jitters and glitches. Each night they make a few changes – anything from a large revision to just small tweaks. Then the show goes ‘dark’ for a few nights before the big grand opening night – which for Amazing Grace was Thursday July 16, 2015.
So, how lucky is that? I can always say I saw this beautiful show fresh from its start on Broadway! I look forward to the chance to someday return and see the “final final” version (but honestly, we couldn’t see anything that needed to be changed, except a small snafu with a set piece that we were probably the only ones noticing with our theater-sensitive eyes). I hurried and put up an instagram here, and here with our positive feedback and reactions.
Our front balcony seats were definitely the BEST place to sit in the cozy Nederlander Theater, in order to enjoy the full bloom of sound, and see all of the action unobstructed.
I’m happy to report that this musical not only met but far exceeded all of my expectations! The casting is so strong and every one of them gave exceptional performances. Josh Young (John Newton) carried the leading role with confidence and emotional investment. There were moments toward the end when he had tears streaming down his face and that just made it all the more emotional for the audience. Young has one of those stunning gifts to not only be able to hold a note for eternity, but then crescendo at the end.
Leading lady Erin Mackey brings a solid classically trained voice to the role of Mary Catlett – John Newton’s childhood sweetheart and oratorio soloist – a devout believer who wrestles with the societal traditions she is bound by, and who has the courage to act on her beliefs.
The two most compelling and powerful cast members are arguably Chuck Cooper (as John Newton’s man-servant slave Thomas/Pacuteh) and Laiona Michelle (as Mary Catlett’s maid-servant slave Nana). They bring tremendous depth to the show, and each have showstopper solos that resonate with our soul.
The voices of this cast are strong and clear, making sure that every word was heard and felt. The musical score is absolutely beautiful – written by a self-taught former police officer named Christopher Smith (another AMAZING story in and of itself). During intermission I was clamoring with at least half the audience to buy the soundtrack and we were VERY saddened to learn it has not been recorded yet! 😦 Apparently, a Broadway show needs to be a rousing success for quite awhile before they can invest in recording the score [just one more reason for you to PLEASE GO AND MAKE THIS A SUCCESS SO WE CAN GET THE MUSIC SOON!!!]
Beautiful vocals, strong acting, committed cast and crew, gorgeous costuming, stunning set design (with the most epic underwater stunt scene that leaves you completely spellbound) … all combining to tell the true-life story of John Newton – a rebellious, bitter, callous son of the British slave ship empire – who was lost, and then against all odds, found. For me, watching this play was a very personal, spiritual journey.
Honestly, I loved this musical so much it’s hard to put into words. It touched me deeply. It made me weep pretty much non-stop (and I wasn’t the only one scrambling in my purse for tissues, and then robbing the bathroom stall of toilet paper during intermission…). It filled my soul with hope for humanity. It reminded me of the power music and theater can have to teach and heal our souls. At a time when our nation – and our world – is experiencing so much hate and renewed racial conflict, I personally do not think it is an accident nor coincidence that the message of John Newton’s life and hymn has been brought forth at this time and place.
As far as I’m concerned, this musical is an inspired message from God. And, who knew that could happen in the same place where just a few blocks away plays are glorifying debauchery and mocking faith?
Imagine the words and message of John Newton’s hymn AMAZING GRACE being sung daily from the theater district in New York City – cast, crew and audience rising to their feet – each diverse voice joined together in a musical prayer, knitting hearts together in love and brotherhood – Imagine the power of that!
The world desperately needs reminding of John Newton’s miraculous conversion, the healing power of God’s grace, and the impact one person can have for good. Broadway has embraced the opportunity to use faith for making a positive impact on our human family. Go! See! Support it! Be transformed by the power, message and legacy of this story. – MoSop