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Intriguing story behind one of the
world's most treasured songs

"Amazing Grace"
Bank of America Theatre
Chicago, IL
October 18, 2014
Amazing Grace Amazing Grace

Story by Andy Argyrakis
Publicity photos courtesy of Broadway In Chicago

In both sacred and secular circles all the world over, "Amazing Grace" isn't just one of the most familiar songs in the entire history of recorded music, but it's thrived well past its 1772 street date. In fact, hundreds if not thousands of major artists have cut it at some point (Mahalia Jackson, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Beyonce, Judy Collins and Bryan Ferry to cite a sliver), while countless congregations across the globe still recite it each and every Sunday.

However, outside of history books and hymnals, the story behind its writing is generally reduced to a few scant trivia details and tidbits, though that's all about to change now that the pre-Broadway premiere of the new musical sharing its namesake officially launched in Chicago. Starring the operatic Josh Young as lyricist John Newton and the equally extraordinary Erin Mackey as his future wife Mary Catlett, "Amazing Grace" read more like a nail biting adventure story centered around social justice activism than simply a revelation behind the simple songwriting session.

Audiences are given a complete portrait of Newton spanning an upbringing in London through expansive world travels, all of which shed light on his resistance to faith after the death of his mother, followed by a life steeped in unfathomable behavior as a slave trader. Add in a complicated relationship with his immensely wealthy father, a romantic triangle and more than one near death experience, and there's never a dull moment on the road to eventual redemption.

In fact, it's almost too exciting to seem totally true, and while "Amazing Grace" is definitely based on an actual story, program notes from the authors and director indicate the creation of characters and an amalgamation of the timeline to fit within two hours and forty minutes. Nonetheless, artistic liberty doesn't diminish Newton's real life reversal on his slavery stance and much of the above's role in those few humble verses that continue to transcend so many centuries.

"Amazing Grace" continues at the Bank of America Theatre at various times and dates through November 2. For additional details visit

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Amazing Grace

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