To see President Obama break into “Amazing Grace” at the June funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney was to witness the continuing force of a hymn written more than two and a half centuries ago. This would lead us to expect a show entitled Amazing Grace about its songwriter John Newton to move us emotionally and spiritually.
Amazing Grace, which has opened at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater, tells the story of John Newton, an 18th century English slave trader who underwent a religious conversion and became a popular preacher, writer, and (eventually) an influential abolitionist. It is an amazing story, but it is told on stage mostly in less than an amazing way. The new musical combines a coming-of-age tale, love story, slave narrative, costume drama, and Saturday morning adventure serial. It tries to do many things at once, in other words, in what winds up being the theatrical equivalent of an unstable alloy.
Update: Amazing Grace will close October 25, 2015
Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.