Only on Fox could viewers be introduced to a trendy Jesus who picks up loaves of bread for the Last Supper from a food truck before launching into a performance of Creed's "With Arms Wide Open."
That's a taste of what unfolded Sunday during the network's live-ish musical production, "The Passion." a present-day retelling of the end of Jesus' life.
The two-hour special, which is based on Dutch television special of the same name, was filmed in New Orleans and coincided with Palm Sunday. It featured stars Jencarlos Canela (Jesus Christ), Prince Royce (Peter), Trisha Yearwood (Mary), Chris Daughtry (Judas Iscariot) and Seal (Pontius Pilate). Tyler Perry hosted and narrated the proceedings.
Here are some thoughts that occurred to us while watching:
1) This is ... different. The re-introduction to live musical productions in recent years has mostly consisted of closed stagings--think NBC's "Sound of Music" or "Peter Pan." Fox's first go at the format--"Grease: Live"--tweaked the guidelines a bit, incorporating an audience and venturing outside with some scenes. And we knew heading into Sunday's production of "The Passion" there would be some more twists to the genre. The event was shot at nine locations in New Orleans in front of an audience of more than 25,000 and featured an element of live reporting. Still, the production wasn't 100% live. To accommodate the unique scale of the production, some scenes were pre-taped weeks before (e.g. the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal). The result was a production that felt the Grammys meets "Empire" meets the local news.
2) Did anyone else have a moment of self-reflection when Tyler Perry asked if Jesus arrived today, "would we listen to him or would we say, 'Hey Jesus, can I get a selfie?" Between that and the bit where Jesus buys loaves of bread and fish from a food truck for the Last Supper, it was hard to deny the sense of humor amid the faith-based storytelling.
3) For those who thought they had rid themselves of the ear worm that is Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life:" you were wrong. The re-telling consisted of pop songs to drive the story forward. While we tried to process Chris Daughtry as Lucifer singing "Bring Me to Life," other songs that were performed included Whitney Houston's "My Love Is Your Love," Katy Perry's "Unconditionally," Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up," Hoobastank's "The Reason," and Creed's (yes, Creed) "With Arms Wide Open."
And while it's easy to snark about some of the song selections, we can't totally harp on it because 1) we are all probably guilty of singing at least one of those songs when they play on KOST and 2) pans to crying audience members during the production proved the soundtrack was effective where it counted. Still, it takes some adjusting when Jesus is singing Katy Perry.
4) There were a few changes made to the story to make it suitable for families to view on a broadcast network-- for instance, nixing a crucifixion scene. Many were interested to see how the moment would be handled. In the end, Perry narrated past those grisly details, leaving such bloody gore for cable TV on "The Walking Dead."
5) The penultimate moment when Canela's Jesus sings Katy Perry's "Unconditionally" from atop a building next to Woldenberg Park was impressive and nerve-wracking, given the height level. The power of it also made us wonder what the production would have felt like had the whole thing been executed live.
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