I normally don't do reviews of films or shows here, but a Broadway show we saw the other night is worthy of mention.
Amazing Grace, which opened a week ago, didn't get great reviews and the dismal box office numbers in its first week since opening might mark this show for an early demise.
That would be a shame, since we thought Amazing Grace is a good show, well-performed.
The writers' notes in the Playbill say the show is based on a true story, although some characters and timelines have been altered or combined for the sake of storytelling. It's the story of John Newton, an Englishman who in 1772 wrote the iconic song Amazing Grace. (I had always assumed it was an old spiritual repurposed as a folksong by Judy Collins or Joan Baez.)
Newton, so the story goes, was the son of a British slave trader who, after a stint as a sailor to escape his domineering father, returns and tries to prove himself by getting into the slave business himself.
Set in 1744 and onward, the show doesn't whitewash the inhumanity and brutality of slavery. It has scenes that show the cruelty. A key character is Newton's childhood girlfriend, who joins the abolitionist movement. And the show let's us see special relationships between master and slave, especially between whites raised by slaves who acted in many ways like teachers and parents. It also shows how quickly a lifelong bond like that can be severed, when Newton sold off his friend and constant companion Thomas, who after all was still Newton's slave.
After nearly perishing out at sea on a slave ship, Newton sees the error of his ways and sets out to make things right, including a cross-ocean search for his old friend Thomas.
It's a great story that makes for good theater. Although not memorable, the music is good and there are some outstanding acting and musical performances by Newton (Josh Young), Thomas (Chuck Cooper) and an African princess (Harriett D. Foy) who becomes Newton's partner by enslaving her own people.
I recommend it, but you may have to get tickets quickly before the mediocre reviews force it to close.
Amazing Grace is playing at the Nederlander Theater.