BROADWAY BLOGGER EXCLUSIVE: an Interview with Amazing Grace’s Clifton Samuels

Now that the 2015-2016 Broadway season is officially underway, it’s time to take a look at some of the new musicals that will be moving into Broadway theatres over the next couple of months. One of this seasons most highly anticipated shows, Amazing Grace, is getting settled in the Nederlander Theatre, with their first preview performance set for June 25th. During a busy tech period, we were able to catch up with one of the show’s cast members, Clifton Samuels, as he talked about the production, onstage mishaps, and the SIX flights of stairs he has to climb just to get to his dressing room!

Broadway Blogger: You’re in the new musical, “Amazing Grace.”  Could you tell us a little bit about the show?

Clifton Samuels: ”Amazing Grace” is an epic new Broadway musical that tells the life story of John Newton, who wrote the lyrics to the song “Amazing Grace.”  The masses know the song well but the story behind the man who wrote it is wildly unbelievable…and the best part is that it’s all true!

Our show takes place during the height of the slave trade in Chatham, England in the mid 1700’s.  John Newton is a young song writer who anxiously wants to follow in the footsteps of his father who is a ship captain and profitable slave trader.  Through divine circumstance John comes to terms with himself, the lives he has enslaved and becomes a great hand in the abolishment of the slave trade.  He then goes on to write the lyrics to the famous song reflecting the perils in which he has been delivered from.

You can learn more about the show here!

BB: What’s the most exciting thing about creating a new musical?

CS: I love working on new material, especially new musicals.  I had the opportunity last year to work on “Beaches-The Musical” based on the movie with Bette Midler.  Having the chance to work on that and “Amazing Grace” within 6 months was incredibly eye opening.

When you’re working on a new show you have to remain malleable and pliable in your approach.  Nothing can really be locked/frozen because everyday you are given new lines, cuts are made, new music is changed, choreography is learned then scrapped.  It forces you to stay present and LISTEN.  As an actor it is our job to listen and react in real time to what’s going on (8 shows a week).  Many actors (myself included) fall prey to “hearing” what’s going on, playing the end of a scene far too early or locking in choices rather than staying flexible, listening and going on the ride.  It also keeps me in an experimental phase when working on new material.  I just keep trying new things and when you’re constantly being given new changes everyday the “workshopping” approach I find is the most rewarding and fun!

BB: What makes this musical stand out from the others?

CS: I have never been a part of a production that has had such a wild audience reaction like our show has received. In Chicago where we had our out of town try-out the audiences were literally on their feet before we even started to bow.  Tears filled the audiences eyes as much as ours on stage.  I can’t explain it!  It was overwhelming and touching every single performance.  I can’t remember the last time I walked into a theatre, saw a production and left affected and changed from when I first arrived.  Art is supposed to affect us that way.  I promise our production will touch you and stay on your mind long after you’ve left the Nederlander Theatre.

BB: What do you hope the audience to take away from this show?

CS: I hope audiences come away from our production with a renewed sense that people CAN change.  That it is possible for one to evolve beyond the mistakes of their past in order to change their life and the lives of others.

Amazing Grace Bank of America Theatre (formerly LaSalle, Shubert) Cast List: Josh Young Erin Mackey Tom Hewitt Chuck Cooper Chris Hoch Stanley Bahorek Harriett D. Foy Laiona Michelle Marija Abney Leslie Becker Sara Brophy Rheaume Crenshaw Miquel Edson Mike Evariste Sean Ewing Rachael Ferrera Savannah Frazier Christopher Gurr Abdur-Rahim Jackson Allen Kendall Elizabeth Ward Land Michael Dean Morgan Oneika Phillips Clifton Samuels Gavriel Savit Dan Sharkey Bret Shuford Evan Alexander Smith Uyoata Udi Charles E. Wallace Toni Elizabeth White Hollie E. Wright  Production Credits: Directed by Gabriel Barre Choreography by Christopher Gattelli  Other Credits: Lyrics by: Christopher Smith Music by: Christopher Smith Book by Arthur Giron & Christopher Smith

BB: What’s the hardest part about performing on Broadway?

CS: Listening is hard!…..8 shows a week.  Trying to stay present and not locking in choices.  It is our job to go on this journey every night, it changes as do we and trying to control a performance or duplicate it I don’t find to be “acting”. It’s easy to get caught in that trap because it’s repetitive behavior.  That’s the hard part…. KEEPING IT FRESH!…. Oh and the 6 flights of stairs I climb to my dressing room!

BB: Have you ever had any onstage mishaps?

CS: Whoa!  Have I?!  YES!  A pretty treacherous mishap occurred in the most recent revival of Stephen Sondheim’s FOLLIES at the Marquis Theatre.

There’s a big production number at the end of Act 2 that Ron Raines sings called “Live, Laugh, Love”.  There was a moment where I was splitting center stage with Ron and the whole stage was supposed to freeze, all 15 of the actors, no one moving.  Well, I was wearing a onesie tux (it was a onesie because I had a quick change in to it so they rigged it that way).  I always asked my quick change dresser to never fully zip up the back because it choked my neck.  This particular night, we turn downstage to freeze, and in this freeze the choreo involved me dropping to one knee.  As I dropped down I realized the onesie tux had been zipped up all the way.  It choked me and propelled me backwards.  Since it was such a frozen moment I decided if I was going to fall, to fall in a frozen position…, I kinda of “timberrrrrred” all in one piece and didn’t break my fall.  I just laid there frozen until 8 counts later when the action resumed.  Now mind you, the actors upstage of me saw the whole thing because I was so downstage and in front of them.  Because I didn’t brace myself and didn’t move the cast thought I’d literally had a stroke.  I jumped to attention and continued the piece with literally everyone on (and offstage) unable to control their laughter.  I think I ruined Broadway that evening…wah wah 😦

CS Interview Pic 2
(I actually found a picture of that specific moment… It’s pixely but I am to Ron’s right on my knee.)

BB: You’re also a part of the new web series “Alphabet Boys.” What can you tell us about it?

CS: Alphabet Boys is a bold and fresh comedic web-series revolving around four 30-something men navigating the struggles of life in Manhattan’s Alphabet City.

Love, friendship, and finding the ever-elusive Mr. Right are at the heart of the series where friends Dante, Blake and Ross suddenly find themselves with a new, and possibly permanent, house-guest when Stefano shows up at the door.
Three gay men under one roof is hard enough, but then add a straight man with extra baggage to the mix and you have a recipe for constant comedic disaster!

I guest star as Joe Joe the “double talking” quirky med student who is dating the shows lead, Dante.

Check out the pilot here!


Thanks, Clifton for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for us!

You can learn more about Clifton on his website, Also, be sure to follow him on Facebook at Clifton Samuels (Cliff Fogle), Twitter @Cliffsamuels, and Instagram @Clifftycents.

To buy tickets to Amazing Grace, click here!
To check out the pilot episode of Alphabet Boys, click here!


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