"When you’re a producer and you’re putting on a play eight times a week, you have some responsibility as to what it is you’re putting into the world" - Carolyn Copeland, Executive Producer of Amazing Grace
Music meets story meets God. A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to the rise of faith-themed movies and television. Much has been written about, including here at Beliefnet, about the power of a well-conceived story to lift people up with a positive message in a way that a sermon (be it oral or written) might not. And, of course, the Church has been aware of the motivating power of music for centuries. Some of the most beautifully inspiring music you’ll ever hear is performed at churches. It makes sense then that combining the power of story with the power of music is a particularly potent means of changing hearts and minds and reaching into the souls of people who are feeling a bit lost -- particularly during dark and stormy times like these.
All of this brings me to the musical Amazing Grace. The play, chronicling the saga of John Newton (Josh Young), the slave captain who would go on to become a leader in the British abolitionist movement and to write the timeless hymn Amazing Grace, follows in a great theater tradition of using music to amplify powerful themes in a way that dialogue may not be able to (at least without sounding stilted or forced). At the same time, a song in the context of a moving story, is often more powerful than notes and lyrics alone.
Of course, powerful themes can be dark and depressing or empowering and uplifting. Either way, they can exert a powerful impact on the culture. Here are five examples of Broadway's musical storytellers using their God-given gifts to create contextual songs that move us toward the light.
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Though a new musical (coming to Broadway fresh off a successful run in Chicago), Amazing Grace starts with the amazing advantage of being built around one of the most popular and moving spiritual songs of all time. How can anyone who has been battered by life -- and maybe made some wrong decisions along the way -- not be moved by its message of hope? Namely, that no matter how wretched you may fear you've become, you are not beyond the infinite love of God.
May the Lord protect and defend you.
May the Lord preserve you from pain.
Favor them, Oh Lord, with happiness and peace.
Oh, hear our Sabbath prayer. Amen.
Set for a return to Broadway in the fall, this story of a Jewish father's struggle to protect his five daughter's from cultural forces that threaten the values he holds dear may be set in 1905 Russia but its timeless music and lyrics will resonate with parents today. Fiddler on the Roof was originally staged on Broadway in 1964.
Oh Dear Lord
Three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly
Day by day
Godspell first brought its modern take on Bible parables to Broadway in 1971. Perhaps the most memorable song from the show is Day by Day which drives home the point that each day requires us to make the personal decision to exercise wisdom and to do the right thing.
Climb ev'ry mountain
Search high and low