A Slave Trader Who Is Not A Wretch Like Me


Amazing Grace tells the story of the slave trader turned abolitionist John Newton in his journey to write the song that is the show’s title.

At the opening of the show we hear from the family slave Thomas, played by Chuck Cooper, about how ironic it is that someone so despicable should write a tune so beautiful.

I expected to see that story unfold.

But I never met the wretch like me. Instead, the audience came to know a likable guy (John played by Josh Young), who solved his daddy issues by becoming slave trader, which he didn’t really mean because he was hoodwinked by an African queen the whole time.

Although I have doubts it was that simple and concerns about giving John so many ways to shirk full responsibility for his actions, isn’t the whole point of the piece to see John emerge from wickedness to a redeemed soul?

There was no dive into this territory, only a toe, so when it was time to experience catharsis with John, I kept wishing for him to stop talking (whining) and let some of the more interesting characters come forward (see below).

The show offers some beautiful moments (the undersea rescue via aerial techniques is definitely one) and performances that you’ll remember. Rachel Ferrara (who played Yema) was a sparkling light every time she walked onstage. Mr. Cooper and Laiona Michelle (who played Nanna) were stellar and in fact received a standing ovation. By portraying slavery’s deep wounds (or as deep as the show would allow), these actors helped us understand the human suffering that was more sorrowful than your average visit to the psychologist.