Fox’s The Passion promised to be a sight to behold, and the live interpretation of Jesus’ final days delivered. Tyler Perry presided over the one-of-a-kind event tonight (March 20) live from his hometown of New Orleans. With Christians all over the world observing Palm Sunday, a sprawling, racially diverse crowd came out to Woldenberg Park to see the age-old Bible story given the live, musical theater treatment.
Perry hosted and narrated from the park’s main stage, backed by a jubilant gospel choir and live orchestra. Nearby, a procession of worshippers carried a large, glowing cross through the streets, which Fox’s cameras cut to during breaks in the action, for crowd interviews and testimonials. But the spectacle was most focused on Perry and his star-studded cast, which featured Jencarlos Canela as Jesus, Trisha Yearwood as Mary, Prince Royce as Peter, Chris Daughtry as Judas and Seal as Pontius Pilate.
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Throughout the two-hour production, popular songs were reinterpreted by the cast and musicians and adapted into the Passion storyline. This began with Kelly Rowland and David Guetta’s mega-hit “When Love Takes Over,” sung by gospel singer Yolanda Adams to open the show from the main stage.
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Next up, the story kicked in as Jesus and his apostles filed into Jerusalem. The Passion cast performed Celine Dion’s “Love Can Move Mountains” to announce the opening of the familiar story. Then, Yearwood belted her first solo song, as she announced Mary’s presence with Whitney Houston’s “My Love Is Your Love” from the main stage.
The soundtrack came to reflect a modern rock and folk songbook, especially when Jesus and his apostles were the focus. Jencarlos sang Creed’s ”With Arms Wide Open” and the Christian rock mega-hit became a prelude to Jesus’ revelation that one of his closest friends would betray him. This was manifested in Daughtry singing Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life“ as his jealousy of Peter led him to sell out Jesus to the Roman authorities. Jencarlos responded with Train’s “Calling All Angels” as Jesus remained in the garden with his apostles.
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The night took another impassioned turn as Prince Royce sang Hoobastank’s “The Reason” as Jesus was taken away by the Roman soldiers. From here, Seal emerged, playing Pontius Pilate, and joined Jencarlos in Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” as the Roman citizens elected to crucify Jesus. Seal ended with “Mad World” as the scene gave way to Perry describing the crucifixion in grizzly detail.
But of course, Perry and the cast made sure to end the story on an uplifting note. With the giant cross now carried to the stage, Jencarlos and the backing gospel choir wowed the audience with Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally,” to proclaim Jesus’ rising three days after the execution. And to send off the NOLA crowd, Adams and the Preservation Hall Brass Band ended the night with “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Disclosure: Billboard is an affiliate company of one of The Passion’s co-producers, Dick Clark Productions.