'The Passion Live' retells the story of Jesus through pop songs
MANILA, Philippines – The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has been retold in different ways across the centuries – be it through paintings, sculptures, film, plays, or musicals. But you may have never quite seen or heard it the way The Passion does it: through pop songs performed live.
Broadcasted live through US TV channel Fox on Palm Sunday, March 20 (Monday, March 21, in Manila), The Passion is a musical with "big, hit songs that everybody knows… in a completely new context," producer Adam Anders (known for Glee and Rock of Ages) says, as quoted by TVLine.
Jencarlos Canela starred in the television special as Jesus, and was joined by top musicians like Chris Daughtry (Judas), Seal (Pontius Pilate), Trisha Yearwood (Mary), Prince Royce (Peter), and Michael W Smith and Shane Harper as disciples. The event, based on an eponymous Dutch franchise, was hosted and narrated by Tyler Perry.
The Gospel retold through pop songs
Set against the backdrop of modern New Orleans, The Passion made use of familiar chart-toppers to depict the different characters' struggles and key points in the biblical narrative.
Clad in jeans, plaid shirts, and the like, Jesus and his disciples perform the upbeat Celine Dion song, "Love Can Move Mountains," as if it was the Gospel, while they traverse New Orleans on one of its iconic streetcars.
Phillip Phillips' "Home" becomes Jesus' song of assurance for Peter: "Don't pay no mind to the demons / They fill you with fear."
Jesus buys bread and fish for his last supper with his disciples from a food truck. He shares the meal with them as he sings Creed's "With Arms Wide Open."
Meanwhile, Chris Daughtry rocks to Evanescence's "Bring Me to Life," exploding with angst as Judas battles his own demons.
Knowing that his hour is near, Jesus prays and launches into Train's "Calling All Angels" to express his anguish.
Set to Imagine Dragons's "Demons," Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss before he sings, "Don't wanna let you down / But I am hell bound."
Just as Jesus foretells, Peter denies him three times and he expresses his pain through Hoobastank's "The Reason."
Seal, as Pontius Pilate, exacts the verdict on Jesus who was in chains and an orange prison jumpsuit. He performs his rendition of "Mad World" by Tears for Fears.
As the lighted cross arrives at the Woldenberg Park stage, Trisha Yearwood, who plays Mary, sings Lifehouse's "Broken" as she mourns for her son.
After the rising from the dead, Jencarlos (as Jesus) stands on top of a building with arms open wide, soulfully belting Katy Perry's "Unconditionally." He sings, "There is no fear now / Let go and just be free / I will love you unconditionally," reflecting Jesus' own words, "Don't be afraid."
'Resurrection in a resurrected city'
The Passion was shot live in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the American cities that suffered the catastrophe brought by hurricane Katrina in 2005. Because of this, it can be described as the story of Jesus' "resurrection in a resurrected city," as a promo video called it.
“No city knows suffering and resurrection more than New Orleans,” Entertainment Weekly (EW) quotes executive producer Adam. “They’ve come back stronger than ever.”
"I think New Orleans is the best place to have The Passion for one reason – literally, the town rose again," said host Tyler in a video featurette.
He added, "To come through so much tragedy and so much darkness, and find love, and find compassion, and find forgiveness… I think the city of New Orleans is the perfect backdrop for the story that has a lot of the same things to say."
“The scenery that it’s providing is stunning and there’s such a vast history to that city, and the culture and diversity,” singer Chris told EW.
One of the highlights of the television special was a 20-foot illuminated cross being carried by hundreds of New Orleans citizens in a procession from the Superdome – where locals once sought refuge from Katrina – to a stage set up at Woldenberg Park near the Mississippi River.
Seeing the 'human' in the story
Jencarlos, who played Jesus, argued that the story had to be approached from a more "human" angle. He said in a Billboard interview, "I feel like society has painted a picture of Jesus that we forget some times that he was human. And I feel like that's kind of like why my generation sometimes can't identify with the story."
Their answer, of course, was The Passion itself.
"It's a musical, it's [set in] modern times, and its songs are, like, recent hits. I was really confused until I sat with Adam, and I was like, 'Wow, this is actually a genius idea!'" said Prince, who played Peter, in a video featurette.
In portraying Judas, Chris Daughtry said that he also saw something "very human" in the biblical figure: "There's a lot of emotions that go into what he did. Portraying that struggle – that's what really interested me about the character because there's something that's very human and very relatable."
As Pontius Pilate, Seal said, "To be a part of one of the greatest stories of all time is something that really appealed to me."
Host Tyler said that the television special could present the Gospel in a new understandable way. He said, "It gives the viewer an opportunity to see the Word, wrapped in flesh and wrapped in life, that everyone will understand. I think it's something that the whole family should see." – Rappler.com