‘The Passion’: Breaking Down Fox’s Live Music Event

The Passion Fox
Daymon Gardner for Variety

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.

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THE CAST:

“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:

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.”

THE THEME:

“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.”

THE MUSIC:

“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.”

For more on “The Passion,” including exclusive behind the scenes photos, click here.

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  1. marilyn says:

    As a born-again Christian, I can say that The Passion was absolutely wonderful; awesome; amazing; talented; beautiful; creative; spectacular; breathtaking; eye-catching; picturesque, etc. Can’t say enough positive things about it. The music was to die for. It gave me goosebumps. I loved it.

  2. Lisa Hobbs says:

    I thought it was wonderfully done, such creativity. Loved it!

  3. Sandy says:

    I thought it was absolutely amazing….the songs the singers everything!!!!! It touched me in so many ways………They should ALL be so proud of themselves…thanks for giving this Easter time such a beautiful thing!!!!!!!

  4. Char says:

    I watched it and thought every minute of it was WONDERFUL!

  5. Miss Paula says:

    This is so sad that there is no Christian music at all in this show. The music so far has been nice music that you could hear any day on the radio, this event should have taken the opertunity to have the Gospel sung as well as acted out. I am very disappointed. An opertunity missed by Christians to reach others that might not otherwise ever hear His word! :-(

  6. Miss M says:

    I think its wonderful, a lot of talent, and people need to connect more with our Lord and Savior! (Me too)
    My only complaint is why Jesus cannot be PORTRAYED in the year of 2016, as he actually was, as a bronze colored man, with hair of cotton. Oh, I guess the masses cannot accept Jesus as he actually was as a BLACK MAN. Why must we take the most precious and spiritual story on earth, and show it as a lie, which is still sinning, (last time I checked lying is a sin If the public cannot accept this fact, perhaps they cannot accept Jesus, or just get over it and stop being hypocrites, its so ridiculous!!!

  7. Kerry Lantz says:

    The Passion was simply awesome. Live. Ah-mazing. The cast, the host and just the way it was done and put together was astounding and moving and I hope there is a CD or something to buy because I will! Kudos to all involved. Sigh.

  8. Lori clark says:

    What a glory to God!!! Wonderful, inspiring and emotional… Congratulations and many thanks to all involved in the production!

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  12. Watching this live. It is incredibly moving. Comforting to see some of the audience with the same reaction.

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  19. Dennis says:

    Was it really necessary to have “police” emblazoned on the front of the people representing the Romans taking Jesus away?

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  36. KWK says:

    The last time I watched a live entertainment feed out of New Orleans, it was a prime time SNL special during Mardi Gras back in the 70s. It was an unruly disaster!

  37. stevenkovacs says:

    Musical choices suspect but let’s see…

  38. Dordor says:

    No Christian songs? EPIC FAIL. Why do you people in Hollywood always fall short in creating authentic Christian shows? I was going to watch, but not now.

    • Miriana says:

      This is originally a Dutch production (so no Hollywood influence there) that touches atheists, agnostics and christians alike. We enjoy it every year and every year they use secular songs. It brings it all home so eloquently that I, personally, think it was the right choice 5 years ago and still is now. Every year there’s a different cast and every year it is live from a different city. It really does move you.

  39. genocide says:

    pure blasphemy.

  40. CJB says:

    So Ted Cruz as Jesus???

    • , says:

      Was very excited to watch this with my family. Hunkered down with all 5 of us and found out in the first ten minutes that it was a reminder of how evil WHITE people are for the atrocities of HURRICANE KATRINA, which was ten years ago!!! Can anyone tell me the correlation between the PASSION & Hurricane Katrina, which was mentioned 20 times in the first 5 minutes? GARBAGE!!!

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