Christopher G. Smith ('93)
Eastern University Commencement Speaker May 2016
At the age of 42 Christopher Smith (Eastern College class of '93) left his careers as a police officer and youth minister to become the concept-creator, composer, lyricist and co-author of the libretto (with his mentor Arthur Giron) of the new Broadway musical Amazing Grace, based on the life of John Newton. Amazing Grace is the first Broadway musical ever to feature, as its central plot, the spiritual redemption of an actual historical figure. It is also the first Broadway musical to depict the slave trade, including the first slave auction ever depicted on the Broadway stage. The show is also the only Broadway show in living memory in which the audience stands and sings with the cast, all without ever being asked or invited to do so. The Associated Press calls the show "inspirational, beautiful, emotional and exhilarating." The Washington Post reports that it "elicits gasps and cheering from the audience" and ABC news said it is "nothing short of amazing."
Christopher is one of the only writers of his generation to have occupied the top position in all three writing disciplines of a Broadway show. This is all the more remarkable because he is completely self-taught and has developed his own unique way of developing stories and bringing them to life. Chris is a firm believer in the ability of ordinary people to go far beyond what the world expects of them, a belief that is firmly rooted in his faith and backed up by neuroscience and the experience of some of history's most extraordinary people.
Amazing Grace is a dream that was conceived 18 years ago. While wandering through a library Chris pulled a paraphrase of John Newton’s autobiography from the shelves at random. That book changed his life. He began raising funds for the show in 2007 from entrepreneurs in Bucks County, Pennsylvania who were inspired by its vision. Chris partnered with CRC Productions, which brought the production to the Goodspeed Opera House in 2012, Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre in 2014 and to Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre beginning in summer 2015. Chris has been married to his best friend Alana for over two decades. They have three children: Joshua (23) Alana (20) and Alexandra (4).