(Patrick Healy’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/26; Via Pam Green.)
CHICAGO — As a police officer in suburban Philadelphia, Christopher Smith always had trouble shaking off images of children scarred by domestic violence or drug addiction. His instinct was to save them, just as, when he was as a child, he wanted to be saved from his mother’s despair, stemming from her bipolar disorder. Mr. Smith found solace by volunteering as a church youth minister, but only some: He is still haunted by the overdose of a 20-year-old he counseled.
So when Mr. Smith randomly came across a library book about John Newton, an 18th-century slave trader whose spiritual awakening led him to write the hymn “Amazing Grace,” he felt stars and heavens aligning. He decided right then to bring Newton’s story to a wide audience, and would do so with a musical, using “Amazing Grace” itself as both a climax and a title. The problem was, he didn’t know the first thing about writing musicals.