A poster promoting a concert of the songs from the musical <i>Amazing Grace</i> in 2007
A poster promoting a concert of the songs from the musical Amazing Grace in 2007

John Newton headed to Broadway?


Amazing perseverance! Variety reported Tuesday that a new musical, Amazing Grace, will have its world premiere this October, presented by Broadway in Chicago at the Bank of America Theatre in the Windy City. Variety said the musical “has all the earmarks of a show with New York in its sights.”

So what? The remarkable story about this saga of slave-trader-turned-hymn-writer John Newton sits in the third paragraph of Variety’s article: “music and lyrics by tyro Christopher Smith and book by Smith and playwright Arthur Giron. …” That sentence updates a story of perseverance that seemed outstanding seven years ago, when I wrote in WORLD about Smith’s 10 years of work on Amazing Grace, and is even more so now, at 17 years and counting.

In 2007, Smith, at age 37, was still hoping for a breakthrough. “Tyro,” Variety calls him, and I guess that’s true: He wrote many of the songs way back at the close of the last century by sitting at a keyboard, listening to the music in his head, and tapping out melodies. His parents had divorced when he was a toddler and he had lived with a mom he recalls as manic-depressive, so “music was an escape.”

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Smith had listened to John Williams movie scores and taught himself to play the guitar. When he graduated from Eastern College in 1992 he entered a police academy and later worked both as a church youth director and a policeman, sometimes at the same time. So it’s not surprising that when he sat down to write a musical he didn’t develop one about happy-all-the-time people or with sparkly angels descending on wires: “My show is about a guy who trades in human beings.”

I hope Amazing Grace makes it. Smith notes accurately that his production “is rare because it’s a non-Bible based story designed to give Broadway-style entertainment while still presenting the gospel clearly and plainly.” I also hope that Smith’s perseverance will be held up in future years as an example of what Christians need to do to get a hearing in an environment hostile to the gospel.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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