RYE REVIEWS: Amazing Grace On Broadway
"THE SONG THE WORLD KNOWS, THE STORY IT DOESN'T"
I had the great pleasure this week to review one of Broadway’s newest shows on the market, Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace officially opens on Broadway Thursday, July 16th, 2015 at The Nederlander Theatre. It is a new original musical based on the awe-inspiring true story behind the world’s most beloved song. A captivating tale of romance, rebellion, and redemption, this radiant production follows one man whose incredible journey ignited a historic wave of change. John Newton (Tony Award nominee Josh Young), a willful and musically talented young Englishman, faces a future as uncertain as the turning tide.
Coming of age as Britain sits atop an international empire of slavery, he finds himself torn between following in the footsteps of his father –a slave trader – or embracing the more compassionate views of his childhood sweetheart (Erin Mackey). Accompanied by his slave, Thomas (Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper), John embarks on a perilous voyage on the high seas. When that journey finds John in his darkest hour, a transformative moment of self-reckoning inspires a blazing anthem of hope that will finally guide him home. Brimming with emotion and adventure, Amazing Grace is an unforgettable musical saga that captures the spirit of history’s sweetest and most powerful sound: freedom.
This show was categorically stunning, thrilling, inspiring, and breathtakingly beautiful. The sets are out of this world (with scenic design by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce), they literally come alive onstage. Two huge ship masts on the left and right side (offstage) are what catch the eye as soon as you enter the theatre. These were really neat, including the left mast, which stood probably 20 feet above the audience and had ropes and ladders (put it this way, when actors climbed to the top of it, they were easily high above the mezzanine). The audience was left gasping and saying “How did they do that?” in scenes such as the near drowning of John Newton right before the beginning of Act II, in which they use the magic of flying to operate this stunt.
There was also a moment where we were hit with the breeze and mist from “The Hurricane” which expanded into much of the audience. The audience and I were left in awe of the magic of this show. Another notable feature of this show was the elegant and exquisitely created costumes by costume designer Toni-Leslie James. Everything from the pea coats, to the women’s ball gowns, to even the navy uniforms were pristine and top of the line with no flaw or blemish.
The cast is made up of a diverse group of performers, from Broadway and Film legends to newcomers to the Broadway stage. Josh Young, who leads the show as “John Newton”, is an absolute delight and excitement to watch on stage. He is a true leader and commands such respect with his exuberant vocal ability that is clean and crisp to the bone. He gives the performance of a lifetime, pouring his heart and soul into the role; his dedication to the part is apparent. I am beyond happy to see him open an original show, and star as the “main leading man”. (Let it be noted that Young was seen on Broadway in 2012 in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical revival, Jesus Christ Superstar as Judas Iscariot. This role gained him a nomination for a Tony Award).
Erin Mackey, who plays the elegant songbird beauty “Mary Catlett” and John’s love interest, excites in her role. She is the only real “brains of the show” being one of the few characters to see that slavery is wrong, and wanting to put an end to it; or as some called her an “abolitionist”. She has lots of big songs, which demand a great amount from this talented soprano leading lady. Songs like “I Still Believe”, “Rule Britannia” and “ Tell me Why” really show her operatic side, and show the elegance in her voice. She is no stranger to the Broadway stage and is a pleasure to watch. Her bravery and courage as Mary Catlett really resonated with everyone, and she is very likable.
The evil leader of the Royal African Company, a successful slave empire, and John’s father, Tom Hewitt played “Captain Newton”. He brought a charming, yet authoritative and discipline to his role. Chuck Cooper (who has been seen in nearly a dozen Broadway shows and many TV shows) stars as “Pakuteh/Thomas” and is really the true stand out performer in this show. His presence gives such grace and possesses a quiet inner strength that you really do not see until the end of Act II. He gives his life for John Newton, and that is shown true especially in the end of Act I. (How that happens—well I won't give that part away!) All of this makes his character really stand out. His breakout Act II song, “Nowhere Left To Run” brought the audience to their feet, and had us filled with tears!
I would also be wrong to not mention the tremendous performances from Laiona Michelle, who plays the wise and nurturing “Nana”, making her Broadway Debut. Another stand out was “Princess Peyai” played by Harriett D. Foy, who really delivered in her role as the African Princess who has joined The Slave Trade and has sold many of her own tribe to the French, is striking to watch on stage! She is ruthless, seductive and ambitious, and Foy plays these parts so well.
The entire cast was truly moving. They’re so talented to watch, and without them, you would have no show. My only criticism is because of the deep British dialect, it is tough to catch what they were saying, or I often found myself catching the middle of the phrase only. But that is to be expected, and it is what makes the show even better then it is!
I would like to see this show succeed and I really hope that it does. If the marketing people do it right, this show will be a big hit! If you are in the New York City area and are looking for a good show, get tickets to see this one! I was so fortunate and honored to be able to review this, making this my first Broadway show, which I have reviewed.
Amazing Grace officially opens on Broadway this evening, Thursday, July 16, 2015, at 8 p.m. at The Nederlander Theatre on 208 West 41st. The cast features Tony Award nominee Josh Young, Erin Mackey, Tom Hewitt, Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper, Chris Hoch, Stanley Bahorek, Harriett D. Foy, Laiona Michelle, Rachael Ferrera and Elizabeth Ward Land.
The ensemble features Leslie Becker, Sara Brophy, Rheaume Crenshaw, Miquel Edson, Mike Evariste, Sean Ewing, Savannah Frazier, Christopher Gurr, Allen Kendall, Michael Dean Morgan, Vince Oddo, Oneika Phillips, Clifton Samuels, Gavriel Savit, Dan Sharkey, Bret Shuford, Evan Alexander Smith, Uyoata Udi, Charles E. Wallace, Toni Elizabeth White, Hollie E. Wright.
Brimming with emotion and adventure, Amazing Grace is an unforgettable musical saga that captures the spirit of history’s sweetest and most powerful sound: freedom.
Additional members of the creative team include Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce (scenic design), Toni-Leslie James (costume design), Ken Billington and Paul Miller (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), Robert –Charles Vallance (hair design), David Leong (fight and military movement), Gillian Lane-Plescia (dialect coach), Kenny Seymour (orchestrations), Michael Keller (music coordinator), Joseph Church (music director, arranger, incidental music), and McCorkle Casting LTD (casting).
Amazing Grace is produced by, Carolyn Rossi Copeland and Alexander Rankin.
The production premiered in Chicago in October 2014 at the Bank of America Theatre and played to sold-out houses.
Tickets for Amazing Grace are on sale now via Ticketmaster.com, by calling 877-250-2929 or in person at the Nederlander Theatre box office, (208 W 41st St). Ticket prices range from $65-$139 (all prices include a $2.00 facility fee).
• Week of July 13: Monday at 8 PM, Tuesday at 8 PM, Wednesday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
• Beginning week of July 20: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.