About the Show
The Song the World Knows. The Story It Doesn’t.
The Song the World Knows.
The Story It Doesn’t.
Program Note from the Authors and Original Director
As a creative team, exploring the astonishing events which led John Newton to pen the words to “Amazing Grace” in 1772, has been an exhilarating experience. It has been our privilege to work together to create this original musical about one of history’s fascinating, yet largely unknown figures.
The theatre has a rich tradition of using history as a jumping off point for telling larger stories. In keeping with this tradition and practice, we have endeavored, not only to tell the real life story of John Newton, but also to illuminate the struggles of ordinary men and women who were prey to the evils of slavery and those who risked everything to end the hideous practice in Britain. To that end, we have created some characters, amalgamated some events and adjusted some of the chronology, to focus on the themes that drew us to this amazing story of one man’s moral and spiritual transformation and the impact he had on our world.
Slavery still exists today, and sadly on a scale far beyond that of the era depicted in our musical. And so, with this work, we hope to recognize and honor all of the victims of slavery, both through the ages and alive today, as well as the new generation of abolitionists that has arisen to join their forefathers in standing up for the life, freedom and dignity of all people.
The strength, faith and courage of these men and women, both historical and contemporary, demand our highest respect, and it is to them that we dedicate this piece.
For further reading we recommend Out of the Depths, by John Newton, his autobiography, with additional material by Dennis Hillman.
– Christopher Smith, Arthur Giron and Gabriel Barre
A Note About Production
AMAZING GRACE is a story about one man’s journey as described above, but the story of getting our show to Broadway and its life beyond that is a journey in and of itself. Along that journey the show has gone from a cast size of 28 (Goodspeed) to 34 (out of town in Chicago) to 32 (Broadway) to 22 (National Tour) to 15 (Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC). As the cast size has fluctuated, so have other production elements including the music, lights, scenery and costumes.
It is my belief that above all, theater must be alive, and that means ever-changing and existing in, and for, the moment. That is why I recommend that anyone mounting this show take their own approach to telling this story, fully embracing the limited (or abundance of) resources at their disposal. Limitations usually are the parents of creativity and foster a more theatrical approach to the story telling and the style of production. This story is interesting all by itself, and if that story is clearly and passionately told, your production will resonate.
With every iteration listed above, we got more and more away from the literal and embraced being in the present, as well as an overall more organic approach to the physical production. We created live sound effects onstage, included live drumming and additional instrument playing onstage, were less concerned about 100% authenticity when it came to costumes, etc.
As long as the licensed material (text, music and lyric) is not changed, each company should feel free to explore their own unique way of telling the story. Enjoy bringing this exciting story to life and to your audience!
– Gabriel Barre
It is nearly Christmas, 1742, and young Englishman John Newton returns from the sea (“Prologue”).
His childhood friend, Mary Catlett, an aspiring singer, is angry that John abandoned his musical education to seek adventure at sea. John’s father, Captain Newton, a wealthy slave-trader arrives; he is angry that his son has rejected his plans for him (“Truly Alive”).
John and his friend Haweis begin the day’s auction without the Captain. The cargo is African slaves (“The Auction”). A commotion ensues when a slave is freed by a group of hooded abolitionists; Mary gives up her cloak to conceal the young woman and aid her escape. John is humiliated and is tasked by Major Gray to find and retrieve the slave.
John argues with Mary; he still suffers from the loss of his dear mother at age eight. Mary encourages John’s better nature, singing a song he wrote for her years ago (“Someone Who Hears”).
Mary is secretly invited to join an abolitionist group. She talks with her black maidservant, Nanna, about how Nanna became a slave and lost her daughter (“Yema’s Song”). Mary’s mother encourages her to pursue a relationship with the handsome and aristocratic Major Gray, who is interested in
Mary. Mary, John and Gray all attend a Christmas ball where Mary performs a song that John wrote (“Voices of the Angels”). John drinks too much and offends everyone, including his father and Mary. Redcoat soldiers drag in two badly beaten abolitionists and the pregnant slave, also beaten. Major Gray scornfully points out that his soldiers, rather than John and his civil authorities, retrieved the slave. Gray leaves with Mary.
The next day, Mary meets with the abolitionists; they relate plans to undermine the slave trade (“We Are Determined”). She agrees to begin a relationship with Major Gray to act as their spy.
Meanwhile, John is press-ganged into the Navy aboard the H.M.S. Harwich; When his father refuses to help him, John breaks all ties with him (“Never”). Thomas, the Newton’s house slave, attempts to intercede on John’s behalf, and Captain Newton sends him on the ship as well.
Mary struggles with her feelings for John (“Shadows of Innocence”). At her home, Major Gray proposes to Mary. As a cousin of George II, he must introduce Mary to the King to obtain royal consent to the marriage (“Expectations”).
John’s carelessness allows a French warship to defeat the Harwich, whose crew is killed. John falls into the sea, and Thomas dives in to save his master (“Battle at Sea”).
John and Thomas are captured In Sierra Leone by African warriors and their Princess Peyai, a ruthless slave trader, who threatens to kill John. John defies her (“Welcome Song”) and is chained to a post and saved from starvation by a young slave girl, Yema.
Meanwhile, Mary performs with the town choir (“Sing on High”) and learns from Captain Newton that the Harwich has been lost (“Tell Me Why”).
Peyai sends a letter to Captain Newton demanding ransom. Captain Newton prepares to sail to Sierra Leone (“A Chance for Me”), and Mary asks him to give John a letter.
John uses his knowledge of the slave business to help Peyai to break up African families and assign slaves to ships. The Princess tests John’s loyalty, pressuring him to sell Thomas as a slave bound for Barbados. As he is chained, Thomas confronts John about his choices (“Nowhere Left to Run”).
Back in England, Major Gray learns that Mary plans to speak against slavery in front of Prince Frederick at the Christmas concert at court, where she has been asked to perform. He imprisons Nanna and threatens to harm her if Mary does anything foolish, but Nanna tells Mary to speak regardless of the Consequences (“Daybreak”).
Captain Newton reaches Africa to pay the ransom for John, but a gunfight erupts; Peyai is killed, while Captain Newton is gravely wounded and soon dies aboard ship.
John assumes the role of Captain and finds Mary’s letter inside his father’s coat (“I Still Believe”). That night, John survives a fierce storm, remaining all night alone on deck, confronted by visions of the many lives he has destroyed (“Testimony”). He has an epiphany and turns the ship towards Barbados. He eventually finds and frees Thomas (whose African name is Pakuteh). John tells Pakuteh that he will spend his life working against the slave trade. Pakuteh is reluctant to forgive John (“I Will Remember”) but relents and goes with him to England.
John arrives home; Mary delivers an impassioned plea to Prince Frederick to end the barbarity of slavery. John bolsters her argument, vowing to undo his former evil. The Prince humiliates and demotes Gray. John and Mary reunite (“Nothing There to Love”). Pakuteh (Thomas), now a free man, recounts that John and Mary wed, and John went on to write hundreds of hymns (“Amazing Grace”).
After several readings, a developmental production of AMAZING GRACE was presented at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT in early 2012. The production broke box office records and saw record-breaking group sales.
In fall 2014, AMAZING GRACE’s World Premiere production was presented at the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago, IL playing to sold out houses before transferring to Broadway in summer 2015.
After transferring to Broadway, AMAZING GRACE played its final Broadway performance on October 25, 2015 at the Nederlander Theatre.
In December 2017 the show launched a 27-state National Tour after being the inaugural production for the Museum of the Bible’s new World Stage Theater.
One-Act Version Premier
In March 2019, AMAZING GRACE returned to Washington, D.C. for a five-month run of the new one-act version.
Worldwide Licensing Available
After receiving countless emails, calls, and letters…this unforgettable original musical is available for you to license and perform at your own theater!