How Sweet a Sound: ’23 Musical Takes Audience on Journey

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The song the world knows. The story it doesn’t.

BJU will present Amazing Grace, a musical biography of John Newton, who wrote the cultural touchstone song, in spring 2023, according to Dr. Darren Lawson, dean of the School of Fine Arts and Communication.

Amazing Grace, with music and lyrics by Christopher Smith, opened July 16, 2015, at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City after previews in Connecticut and Chicago. It also played for eight weeks at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., and reached 27 states on a national tour.

“I saw the musical on Broadway back in 2015 and was greatly moved by its music and message,” Lawson said.

Lawson will hold auditions for guest artists in early 2022. Student auditions will be conducted in April. Recent large-scale musical stage productions in Rodeheaver Auditorium include A Tale of Two Cities in March 2021 and Titanic in March 2019.

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Lawson said he’s “working with set designer Jason Waggoner on ideas right now. We’re exploring projection technology.”

“Amazing Grace,” written in 1772, describes Newton’s personal journey out of spiritual blindness into the light of God’s grace. In 1997, Smith, a police officer and youth outreach/education director at a church in suburban Philadelphia, discovered Newton’s story of working in the slave trade to his conversion, becoming pastor of a church in London to being a vocal abolitionist.

“In college, I was a history major but I’d never heard of Newton, never known his story. Now I was suddenly convinced it needed to be told — in a big way,” said Smith, who didn’t have formal training in music composition and scriptwriting.

Through the years, Smith has seen audiences connect with Newton’s story of struggle and redemption.

“There’s something within the human heart that we want to be loved in spite of ourselves,” he said. “We want to know that we can go back, that we can change. There’s not a whole lot in our culture that seems to support that message yet it’s a very deep yearning inside people and I realized that John Newton could be a great portrait of that.”