This ambitious and epic original musical will be remembered for three things: the Act I faux underwater finale where anti-hero John Newton (Josh Young) is saved by his slave/friend/confidante Thomas aka Pakuteh (Chuck Cooper) in a spectacular Cirque-du-Soleil type rescue – the Act II Hurricane where in its aftermath John Newton after many trials and tribulations finds Thomas and God and the inspiration for the title song which is the third and most amazing thing about this production – the epilogue – where the entire large cast sings an exceptionally stirring and memorable rendition of AMAZING GRACE.
The show has been cast with terrific singers who unfortunately get to voice the monotonous, unmemorable score by Christopher Smith (music and lyrics) and act the melodramatic script by Mr. Smith with the assistance of Arthur Giron.
AMAZING GRACE is a beautiful production to behold. The late 18th century gowns by Toni-Leslie James are sumptuous. The nautical sets (Eugene Lee/Edward Pierce) with its rigging and sails and pulleys allow director Gabriel Barre to travel quickly from England to Sierra Leone to beneath the sea with dexterity. All beautifully lit by Ken Billington and Paul Miller.
But the story treads water for most of the first act. It fails to engage despite the fine performance of Josh Young as John Newton – a headstrong young man at odds with his headstrong father Captain Newton (Tom Hewitt) who runs a business that imports and auctions off slaves from Africa. A very lucrative business both for them and the African Princess Peyai (a headstrong Harriet D. Foy) who just about chews up the Palm trees and anyone else who gets in her way.
John loves Mary (an excellent Erin Mackey) who frowns upon the family business but adores John and the poems he has written to her.
She becomes an activist against slavery and sets out to obtain information from Major Gray (Chris Hoch) – a buffoon who wants to woo her as Captain Newton has had his son abducted into the Royal Navy as punishment for his wayward ways which leads to the grand under water rescue which leads them to believe John is dead which leads us to Sierra Leone where John becomes enslaved by the evil Princess Peyei which allows choreographer Christopher Gattelli to create gyrations which remind us of a far superior Disney show about African lions.
Did it happen this way? Or have the creators taken great poetic license with the source material? Read the fabulous A RESPECTABLE TRADE by Philippa Gregory to be further enlightened on this very interesting topic – the horrors of slavery and the selling of humans as merchandise – sometimes two for one in the case of a very pregnant captive.
BUT one cannot fail to be moved by the epilogue – the excellent choral arrangement of Amazing Grace, words by John Newton with music by William Walker – that says it all:
AMAZING GRACE! HOW SWEET THE SOUND
THAT SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME
I ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW AM FOUND
WAS BLIND, BUT NOW I SEE!
Most of what precedes this song is merely superfluous. At the Nederlander Theatre.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Tags: No Comments