Broadway composer seeks ‘lights’ in entertainment

Broadway composer seeks ‘lights’ in entertainment

Amid entertainment industry scandals and a steady stream of profanity- and sex-laden content from Hollywood, Broadway composer Christopher Smith aims to inspire a generation of Christians to be salt and light in the entertainment world.

Smith — author of the script, music and lyrics for the musical “Amazing Grace” — has pursued that aim through speaking engagements at several Southern Baptist-related schools, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He also hopes to demonstrate what God-honoring entertainment looks like with a 70-city tour of “Amazing Grace” starting Nov. 17 at the Museum of the Bible’s grand opening in Washington.

“I really believe,” Smith said, “in the redemptive power of theater which is excellent in its artistry and honors God.”

“Amazing Grace” is based on the true story of 18th-century slave trader John Newton, an atheist turned Christian pastor who helped abolish the slave trade in Great Britain and wrote the autobiographical hymn Amazing Grace.

Art mirrors life

Inspired by Smith’s encounter with a book about Newton years ago, “Amazing Grace” mirrors Smith’s personal testimony in some ways. God saved him out of atheism at age 17. Then he went on to become a police officer and youth pastor in Pennsylvania before breaking into the theater business with “Amazing Grace.”

During the show’s 2015 run on Broadway, audiences reacted enthusiastically. Some theatergoers told Smith the production made them rethink their priorities in life.

One woman happened by the theater after learning from a doctor she had three or four months to live, Smith said.

She decided on the spur of the moment to watch “Amazing Grace” and told the cast afterward the show helped her realize “there are things I need to get right in my life and people I need to get right with.”

Performance without compromise

On a regular basis, audiences stood at the end of the musical to sing the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

“You leave ‘Amazing Grace’ knowing … that God can be in the theater,” Smith said.

In mid-October, Smith helped students and graduates at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, present a concert of selections from “Amazing Grace” that featured a 400-person choir and full symphony orchestra. In rehearsals leading up to the concert, Smith said, he tried to help aspiring performers understand how to “communicate the gospel in a hostile industry, a hostile world without being adversarial.”

That goal also has led Smith to form a nonprofit organization called Lights on Broadway — with the assistance of Southern Seminary philosophy professor James Parker among others — to train aspiring Christian performers. In addition to helping them hone their craft, Lights on Broadway will produce musicals consistent with a Christian worldview.

Young people in entertainment tend either to “quit because they don’t want to compromise” their morals or “compromise because they don’t want to quit,” Smith said. “That’s our fault. We need to create great quality entertainment [so] they can practice their gift without compromising their values.”

Secularists “did a takeover of entertainment,” Smith said. “I really think theater is the way to start to claw back something that will honor God.”

“Amazing Grace” runs at the Museum of the Bible through Jan. 7. A schedule of other tour stops will be released at (BP)