Amazing Grace

Theater, Musicals
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 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
1/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Josh Young in Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre

 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
2/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus

Josh Young and Erin Mackey in Amazing Grace at Broadway in Chicago's Bank of America Theatre

 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
3/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Harriet D. Foy, Josh Young and the company of Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Josh Young, Tom Hewitt and the company of Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
5/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Laiona Michelle and Erin Mackey in Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
6/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Chuck Cooper, Josh Young and the company of Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
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Photograph: Joan Marcus
Erin Mackey, Josh Young and the company of Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
8/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Chris Hoch, Erin Mackey and the company of Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
9/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Rachel Ferrera, Erin Mackey, Laiona Michelle and the company of Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre
 (Photograph: Joan Marcus)
10/10
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Laiona Michelle and Erin Mackey in Amazing Grace at Chicago's Bank of America Theatre

Bank of America Theatre. Music and lyrics by Christopher Smith. Book by Smith and Arthur Giron. Directed by Gabriel Barre. With Josh Young, Erin Mackey, Tom Hewitt, Chuck Cooper, Chris Hoch, Laiona Michelle. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.

Theater review by Kris Vire

"Amazing" isn't the right adjective, not yet anyway, for this big new musical with Broadway intentions. "Ambitious" applies, certainly, but unfortunately "adequate" or "acceptable" would also work.

The tuner tells a portion of the life story of John Newton, the English slave trader turned abolitionist who went on to become an Anglican cleric and wrote a trove of hymns, including "Amazing Grace." As presented here, John (Tony nominee Josh Young) is a kind of prodigal son who's rejected both God and family since the death of his mother; his father consigns him to impressment in the Royal Navy, while his childhood sweetheart Mary Catlett (Erin Mackey) wonders what happened to the sweet boy who once wrote songs for her.

John nearly drowns in a shipwreck off the coast of West Africa, but is rescued by his longtime slave Thomas (Chuck Cooper); the two are then captured by a sadistic tribal princess (Harriett D. Foy) who's teamed up with the French and profits off selling her own people into slavery. John then becomes her slave—a plot point that'd be far too on-the-nose if it hadn't actually happened. While John is away at sea and later presumed dead, Mary is back home finding her own path into the nascent abolitionist movement while fighting off the advances of a smarmy army officer (Chris Hoch).

The piece is the brainchild of composer-lyricist Christopher Smith, a self-taught newcomer to musical theater. His score is competent, if not too memorable, and director Gabriel Barre's production is visually rather impressive, with massive Eugene Lee sets and lush costume designs by Toni-Leslie James. What Smith, Barre and book co-writer Arthur Giron need to work on is their story's emotional arc.

Young and Mackey are fiercely charismatic leads with strong chemistry, but the show's current structure keeps them in separate storylines for most of the evening. The creators need to find more ways to put them onstage at the same time.

And Young's Newton suffers from the same problem as the lead of this year's other seafaring Broadway tryout at the Bank of America Theatre, Sting and John Logan's The Last Ship: He's a rebel without a cause. We need a greater sense of what's made him so different from the boy Mary loved in order to properly care about the epiphany that saved a wretch like he.

By: Kris Vire

Posted:

Event website: http://www.amazinggracemusical.com/
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jj m

I think Amazing Grace the musical,  does address why John Newton becomes a horrible human having no thought for others.  He lost his mother and that is detailed in one scene with his childhood sweatheart, Mary Catlett.  However, the back story is how close he was to his mother and how loved he was by her.  She was a very spiritual person and read the Bible to him all the time. His father seemed to actually hate him and was out to sea most of the time.  When his mother died she was in another town and he didn't get to even say goodbye.  


If his father had been a loving father his journey would have been much different.  Instead, his father re-married, sent him off to boarding school with no one wanting him around.  They hated his presence, foul mouth, blasphemy and sadistic nature.   Mary's family was completely kind to him and cared for him when he would return from voyages but they too began to find him impossible.  He read constantly and he found a philosopher that he completely admired.  (can't remember the philosphers name just now).  He was of the belief that you live  for yourself and it doesn't matter how it affects others.He believed there were no absolutes and no morals defining how we live our lives.  John actually memorized this book and he took delight in trying to make men of faith atheists..  Even the hardest of shipmates grew to hate him because he was such a horrible human being.  He raped women slaves, he drank incessantly, he used words to humiliate and damn others, he enjoyed hurting others and so much more.


It was obvious to me that he was a young boy who never experienced love except from his mother and she was gone when he was just a very young boy.  The only other person that truly cared for him was Mary Catlett.  If as a child you are taught about having faith in a loving God and then the person you need the most dies, it is usually seen as betrayal in a childs eye.  Betrayal of your mother is too horrific to accept so you can blame God or deny there is a God and go on a very injured human being.  Hurting you then inflict hurt on others.


There is so much backstory in this man's life that is difficult in a musicals time restraints to show it all.  I think the writers have done a very good job of telling his story within the framework of the time and protocol for a musical.  My one suggestion is to listen carefully to the lyrics of the songs.  That is where the real story is told.  If you don't carefully listen to the words you will miss so much of John Newton's story that you will conclude that his story wasn't told as well as it might have been.  The key is to truly listen to the entire show, both music and lines.


It is really a fabulous show.  There is rich music, great creative team. great actors, amazing costumes with phenomenol sets, lighting and sound.  The orchestrator for the music is brilliant.  It is a must see (many times) in my humble opinion.





jj m

I think Amazing Grace the musical,  does address why John Newton becomes a horrible human having no thought for others.  He lost his mother and that is detailed in one scene with his childhood sweatheart, Mary Catlett.  However, the back story is how close he was to his mother and how loved he was by her.  She was a very spiritual person and read the Bible to him all the time. His father seemed to actually hate him and was out to sea most of the time.  When his mother died she was in another town and he didn't get to even say goodbye.  


If his father had been a loving father his journey would have been much different.  Instead, his father re-married, sent him off to boarding school with no one wanting him around.  They hated his presence, foul mouth, blasphemy and sadistic nature.   Mary's family was completely kind to him and cared for him when he would return from voyages but they too began to find him impossible.  He read constantly and he found a philosopher that he completely admired.  (can't remember the philosphers name just now).  He was of the belief that you live  for yourself and it doesn't matter how it affects others.He believed there were no absolutes and no morals defining how we live our lives.  John actually memorized this book and he took delight in trying to make men of faith atheists..  Even the hardest of shipmates grew to hate him because he was such a horrible human being.  He raped women slaves, he drank incessantly, he used words to humiliate and damn others, he enjoyed hurting others and so much more.


It was obvious to me that he was a young boy who never experienced love except from his mother and she was gone when he was just a very young boy.  The only other person that truly cared for him was Mary Catlett.  If as a child you are taught about having faith in a loving God and then the person you need the most dies, it is usually seen as betrayal in a childs eye.  Betrayal of your mother is too horrific to accept so you can blame God or deny there is a God and go on a very injured human being.  Hurting you then inflict hurt on others.


There is so much backstory in this man's life that is difficult in a musicals time restraints to show it all.  I think the writers have done a very good job of telling his story within the framework of the time and protocol for a musical.  My one suggestion is to listen carefully to the lyrics of the songs.  That is where the real story is told.  If you don't carefully listen to the words you will miss so much of John Newton's story that you will conclude that his story wasn't told as well as it might have been.  The key is to truly listen to the entire show, both music and lines.


It is really a fabulous show.  There is rich music, great creative team. great actors, amazing costumes with phenomenol sets, lighting and sound.  The orchestrator for the music is brilliant.  It is a must see (many times) in my humble opinion.