A few weeks ago, writing over at the National Catholic Register, I told the story of a new Broadway musical, Amazing Grace. The script was the work of first-time playwright Christopher Smith, a former police officer, and told the story of John Newton, who penned the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.” In August, I wrote:
Young John Newton was familiar with the sea: He was only 11 years old when he first set sail with his father. By the age of 18, he’d accepted a position as a slave master in Jamaica; but before he could assume his new post, Newton was pressed into service in the British Navy. He became a midshipman, but he tried to desert his ship — so he was severely beaten and, at his own request, was transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa.
Newton was eventually rescued; but his story continued.
…But alas, as the ship sailed homeward, it encountered a storm at sea. As the wind roared, as the waves washed over the bow, as lightning split the sky into two, Newton and his fellow sailors feared for their lives. As the ship filled with water, the panicked Newton called out to God.
I loved the story, and I was excited to learn that Christopher Smith’s ambitious life project had opened at the Nederlander Theater. I never made it to New York during its run, but my friend Tom Zampino did–and Tom published his enthusiastic review on his Grace Pending blog on Patheos. Tom wrote:
While we weren’t exactly raising our voices in a halleluiah refrain at some 19th century tent revival, we were set down somewhere beyond the smelly, hot, exploitative mess that once again has begun to overwhelm Times Square.
So yes, that hymn – that 236-year-old ode to Newton’s self-described personal journey from a bloody, cynical, God-denying, merchant-of-flesh and death, to a God-fearing, abolitionist, wordsmith, and prolific composer of hymns – does indeedtranscend everything.
It is, indeed, that powerful.
The shuttering seems likely to represent a total loss for investors in the show, which never topped $350,000 in weekly grosses and regularly played to houses filled to less than 60% of capacity. The summertime weeks just after the Tony Awards is always a challenge for the launch of a new musical, since tourists come to town hoping to catch either a long-established hit or a recently-crowned Tony champ. This past summer was particularly tough in that another new musical, “Hamilton,” cast a mammoth shadow even before it opened in August.
Color me sad. That a production with such a redemptive message should make it to the stage was exciting, and I had hoped that Christians would turn out en masse to celebrate its success, and to show their support. I hoped that I might make it to New York to see it.
If you are anywhere near Manhattan, you’ve got a just few weeks to see Amazing Grace before the production closes down.