As a 20-foot illuminated cross made its way from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to Woldenberg Riverfront Park, New Orleans spent the evening of Palm Sunday (March 20, 2016) hosting a semi-live musical production of “The Passion.” New Orleans native Tyler Perry narrated the presentation which was opened by gospel singer Yolanda Adams on the FOX network.
Modern popular songs made up much of the song list, with occasional adaptations made to the lyrics to better suit the scriptural story being told. Sung by Jencarlos Canela as Jesus, Trisha Yearwood as Mary, the mother of Jesus, Seal as Pontius Pilate, Prince Royce as Peter, and Chris Daughtry as Judas, the story followed the Biblical accounts, but moved the action to modern day.
The giant stage with multiple levels which was constructed on the Mississippi River at Woldenberg Park included a large video screen which projected previously recorded segments and live action taking place off stage. Perry’s narration, Yearwood’s songs and the pivotal trial scene took place at the Park. Others scenes were staged at various locations throughout the Crescent City and projected on the giant screen, as was the progress of the cross to the stage.
For example, Jesus shared the Last Supper under spreading oaks draped in Spanish moss instead of the upper room of scripture and he bought the food from a food truck. Judas’s betrayal took place in the shadow of the two spans of the Crescent City Connection, rather the Garden of Gethsemane. Instead of Roman soldiers, Jesus was arrested by members of an NOPD SWAT team.
The crucifixion was described by Perry rather than shown, and a poignant song by Yearwood as she stood by the lighted cross focused on Mary’s loss rather than Jesus’s sacrifice. Canela reappeared as the resurrected Christ, singing from the roof of a nearby hotel.
A gospel choir under the direction of Tim Davis provided backup to the many musical numbers, while the Preservation Hall Brass Band joined Yolanda Adams and the cast for the finale, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The production took its inspiration from one produced in The Netherlands for several years. Members of the public submitted applications for positions in the procession carrying and accompanying the cross as well as tickets to attend the live production. The weather cooperated with the production, providing a pleasant, if slightly cool evening.
Christians can applaud FOX’s decision to air this production, even if they disagree with some of the production decisions. The nondenominational approach welcomed all to a celebration of the events which define Christianity. News reports indicate the production will be available on Netflix with several days.
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