FOX is resurrecting the live TV space once again this Palm Sunday with “The Passion,” a modern spin on the story of Jesus Christ’s last hours.
Aside from being the first of recent TV music events to be based on religion, “The Passion” is setting itself apart from other musicals like the network’s own “Grease” and NBC’s trifecta by not billing itself as a musical- rather, it’s been described as a “live spectacular” spanning across New Orleans, packed with “mini-movies,” a plethora of sets, A-list names, not a lot of dancing, but lots and lots of singing.
Exec producer Mark Bracco of Dick Clark Productions and music producer Adam Anders, a graduate of “Glee,” break down “The Passion” for Variety-here’s the lowdown on the city, the music and the stars.
“It’s been a dream,” Anders says of working with the stellar cast including musical icons Trisha Yearwood (Mary) and Seal (Pontius Pilate), plus “American Idol” alum Chris Daughtry (Judas) and Jencarlos Canela (Jesus).
“Trisha was so important because she’s the anchor of the show. They’re big songs, they’re big moments … She’s a legend. She has a world-class voice. Her vocals are incredible. She’s so wonderful to work with,” Anders raves of Yearwood.
Of Seal, he says, “He was singing next to me and I got goosebumps. For me, the opportunity to work with him is a dream come true. Beyond that, he brings such a cool element to the show. He can walk on that stage and he’s really a powerful man. He has that weight to him.”
As for Daughtry? “He was the first guy who popped into my head for Judas,” Anders admits. “To actually have him be in the show, I’m just so appreciative to Fox to have the guy I had in my head bring it to life. It’s just so good.”
THE LIVE AUDIENCE:
Fox’s “Grease Live!” was the first recent TV musical to incorporate a live audience into the television broadcast, and “The Passion” is taking that interaction to the next level. Spanning across the city of New Orleans, a live procession with hundreds of people who drove across the country to carry a large cross will be a huge part of the show, which is expected to have 25,000 to 30,000 live audience-goers on site.
Explaining the level of audience interactivity to expect, Bracco says, “Even outside of the procession, when the trial of Jesus happens live on the stage, there’s always that moment in the story where the crowd will yell back so at that moment when Pontius yells at the crowd, it’ll be the crowd that yells ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ because that is what happened in the bible. There are going to be a few moments where the thousands of the people in the park are going to become a part of the live show, just as if they were in church on Palm Sunday where there are people in church saying, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’
New Orleans was always the city of choice for the producers behind “The Passion.”
Speaking of the NOLA native host, Bracco says, “Tyler Perry says this better than anyone, but it’s a city that resurrected itself. It rose again after Katrina. We went there and the people of the city were so welcoming and wanted us to bring the show there.”
“It’s huge. It’s paramount to the success of this,” Anders says about the wide-ranging religious theme. “Music moves people in the way nothing else can. It’s a powerful medium. If you want to re-tell this classic powerful story story in a modern way, the only way to do it is through music, and then you add this music that people already love, it takes it to the next level. I think when I worked on ‘Glee,’ part of the success of that show is that everybody got something that they loved from and that’s something that I’ve taken from there. We need to give everybody something to reflect our diverse cast and diverse audience.”
“All the songs are modern hits. There’s no Christian songs. There’s no religious songs at all,” Anders says of the soundtrack that includes live covers of music by Whitney Houston, Imagine Dragons, Katy Perry, Celine Dion and more. “When you go through the hits from the last couple decades, it’s unbelievable how many No.1 songs have religious messages.”
“Adam Anders, he’s a genius,” Bracco raves of the music producer. “The scene when Judas betrays Jesus and they sing the duet by Imagine Dragons, it’s almost as if that song was written for that moment. The lyrics are so perfect and the songs that Adam chose, it’s so eerie at times.” Anders adds, “For me, it was all about finding the right lyrics that fit the themes. It’s been a really fun process.”
“The Passion” airs tonight on FOX at 8 p.m. Eastern.