On Sunday, March 20 — Palm Sunday, that is — ubiquitous screen and stage mogul/actor Tyler Perry will take on a new kind of role: host and narrator of Fox’s The Passion, a two-hour live musical depicting the martyrdom of Christ, featuring a procession of hundreds lugging a 20-foot illuminated cross through the streets of New Orleans. It’s an import from Holland, where a show with the same concept has pulled in huge, growing ratings for five years straight. America’s new version will include singers Chris Daughtry, Trisha Yearwood, Yolanda Adams, Jencarlos Canela, Seal, and Prince Royce taking on contemporary pop hits reworked by Glee’s Adam Anders and co-producer Peer Astrom. (Disclosure: Billboard is an affiliate company of one of The Passion‘s co-producers, Dick Clark Productions.) Perry, 46, may not be a pop star, but he’s convinced he’s in the right role in The Passion: New Orleans is his hometown, and he’s a big fan of both the music and the message he’ll help transmit on Palm Sunday, starting 8 p.m. ET.
The Passion tackles a very sensitive subject, to say the least. Did you have any concerns going into it?
I don’t have any concerns because I know what my intention is: to go in and do a great job and be a part of this wonderful positive message. The idea of Christ’s love for us all is inspiring to me. I saw a video of the original Netherlands [version of The Passion] and was beyond moved. I thought, “If this can be pulled off in America, how wonderful it will be for so many people.” That’s where my commitment comes in.
Did you pass on a singing role so as to not show up the cast?
No, I think I’m where I need to be. [Laughs] I’m in the right seat. I know that.
You’re from New Orleans. Will this be an odd spectacle for the city?
In my hometown music lives on every corner, every day, everywhere. Whether you’re walking to church or school or whatever, there’s music and dancing all day, all over the place. There’s no better backdrop if you ask me.
As host and narrator, are you ready to improvise if something goes wrong?
Well, I’ve been on stage for a long time. I’m in Pittsburgh now [with a theater production of Madea on the Run], and it’s a sold-out show. My specialty is to keep it moving. I think I’ll be okay as long as they don’t crown the wrong Jesus.
Did the show’s Dutch producers pass on wisdom about the unpredictable?
I will tell you, my one concern I expressed to [executive producer Adam Anders] was, “What about rain?” He said it rained one of the years in Holland, and it turned out to be a much more moving and inspiring evening because of it. So, that would be interesting to see — but I’m still praying for no rain.
As a man of faith, do you think it’ll be strange to see Jesus in modern attire?
That’s something that intrigued me about it, actually, because it tells the story in a way a lot of people can understand. I think that’s going to be inspiring. I saw the version in the Netherlands and I was really blown away by how they pulled it off.
And what do you think about the use of secular songs instead of religious ones?
I was excited — some of the songs they’re using, if you look at the lyrics, it doesn’t matter who’s singing them or where they come from, if the writer was talking about an ex-lover or a friend or whatever. The lyrics are so interchangeable for a lot of these moments, so I was happy to see the list of songs.
Have you been in New Orleans for rehearsals?
No, not yet. I get there to rehearse right before the event. But everything’s coming together and I’m completely excited and have the utmost confidence. I think it’s going to be amazing.
Fox’s The Passion airs Sunday, March 20 at 8 p.m. ET.