SHOWBIZ CHICAGO SOCIAL SCENE: Broadway Bound AMAZING GRACE Starring Tony Nominee Josh Young Has Amazing Potential
By: DAVE McGUIRE
REPORTING FROM BROADWAY IN CHICAGO’S PRESS CONFERENCE FOR AMAZING GRACE.
“How sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me,” with a musical based on a song, or the origin story of a song, with those lyrics one can only expect what is promised, a tale of Epic redemption through ultimate love. Or at least through some pretty amazing music.
Broadway In Chicago’s sneak peak of the upcoming, pre-Broadway hit, ‘Amazing Grace’: Book by Christopher Smith and Arthur Giron, Directed by Gabrui which premiers in Chicago, and the world, this coming October, was offered to us on Monday. If musical theater is your bag then grab your happy pants and get ready to pull them on – because wow.
As a lover of the American musical I am pumped for this. If they can pull it off, the scale of the show does seem daunting. The story of the show in short, is epic. It also happens to be a true story, the producer Carolyn Rossi Copeland, was very clear on that. She was also very clear that while the story is about the man who wrote the song Amazing Grace it is not entirely a religious story. The story is one of sin and redemption that spans three continents, and the oceans of the world. It will sweep you into the Dark Continent, Africa, and whisk you to the Caribbean. Battles over slavery, internal and external will be fought, but at its heart is a story of Love conquers all. If they can pull it off it will be quite a show to see. Gabriel Barre the director has quite a task before him. I wish him all the luck in the world, and do hope he pulls it off, the tale orated to us by Carolyn Rossi Copeland, yesterday was so amazing, I can understand why she had to stop so often to remind us it was true.
The story in brief, because I hate spoilers and so does most everyone I know. So briefly then John Newton, played by Josh Young (whose credits include, “Che” in” Evita”, national touring company, Broadway revival “Judas” Jesus Christ Superstar for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical), sets out in life joining the Navy, his ship goes down in a storm and all are presumed dead. Mary Catlett (Played by Erin Mackey, whose credits include, Glinda in Wicked) his childhood sweet heart is left to mourn him, and of course sing about his death, it is a musical after all. “Tell Me Why” is a great song, one can go many ways when singing the song of mourning it can be a dirge, a mournful ballad, or an angry defiance of god. “Tell Me Why” manages to capture the energy of all those styles wrapping them up in her delicious voice. Honestly I can already hear the high school drama students sitting back stage in there high schools trying to recapture some of those notes.
So the story continues and we find John Newton not dead but enslaved with his own slave Thomas to an African Princess. John sells his slave to the Princess for his own freedom. Thomas musically attacks John’s soul with the song “Nowhere left to run,” which is a reminder of god’s final judgment it is a powerful song and is sung amazingly by Charles E. Wallace . The final judgment of God. “When you lay your body in the ground, where will you go when there is nowhere left to run?” The song asks.
The fact is this Broadway Hit (and I do call it a hit though it has not premiered yet, for it is sure to be,) is about redemption, and listening to the musical selections displayed it runs a very great risk of seeming a “Les Mis”, clone, thematically, and as far as the music goes stylistically, the four selections they sang for us yesterday bear great resemblance to some of the more powerful moments of Jean Val Jeans epic tale; those haunting low notes with the tremble in the voice. This is by no way an insult, just one of the worries I have about this production. From what I saw “Amazing Grace” will be an amazing show to see. And I truly hope they can avoid Les Mis clone status, I am very hopeful that they can, due in part, not to anything that was presented to us musically on Monday, , but to a background of the video describing the show that was presented before the actual presentation began. As they interviewed Choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Newsies,) there was this amazing African Tribal beat dance number happening. Wow! While the four songs directly presented to us were of very similar tonality to “Les Mis” and while the plots thematic through line is also very similar to Val Jean’s tale. If ‘Amazing Grace’ brings these tribal beats, and the kinetic energy of tribal “Modern” Dance, to bare on stage then you have something, great, something worthy of notice, something, frankly Amazing!
I fully intend to grab myself a ticket and see if this show lives up to the Amazing potential, which was on display Monday, and fully recommend you all do the same. Opens Oct 9th, at the Bank of America Theater. For more information visit BroadwayInChicago.com