Who knew modern-day love and breakup songs could be used to explain the greatest story ever told. "The Passion" aired live on FOX Sunday night and the musical successfully took the 2000-year-old account of Jesus' last days on earth, his crucifixion and resurrection, and shared it in a way that was relatable while promoting his message of unconditional love.
Since nothing in modern-day America is as brutal as the roman style crucifixion that Jesus had to endure, "The Passion" avoided dramatizing the vicious torture and death of Christ. The two-hour event, however, made it a point to promote the love Jesus taught his followers while on earth, his thrilling arrest and inspiring resurrection.
The musical included a star-studded cast of Jencarlos Canela (Jesus Christ), Chris Daughtry (Judas), Prince Royce (the disciple Peter), Michael W. Smith (disciple), Seal (Pontius Pilate) and Trisha Yearwood (Mary, the mother of Jesus).
"The Passion" was narrated by film producer and actor Tyler Perry on the live stage at New Orleans' iconic Woldenberg Park. It kicked off with gospel powerhouse Yolanda Adams performing an electric cover of David Guetta's "When Love Takes Over," which instantly captivated the audience.
Before getting into the story of Christ, Perry urged viewers and the live audience to open their windows and hearts, as New Orleans would soon become their home just as it was in Jerusalem.
Set in the present day, the first scene splits into a filmed segment that introduces happy-go-lucky Jesus and his multiracial disciples as they ride a New Orleans trolley with them singing Celine Dion's "Love Can Move Mountains."
From time to time, the production took a break to highlight the procession of hundreds of people carrying a 20-foot illuminated cross from Champion Square outside the Superdome to the live stage at Woldenberg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. Some of the people walking with the crowd shared what the cross meant to them; a military husband said it signified strength while later a mother whose son, Keshawn Bell, was gunned down, said it means justice, peace and healing.
Back at the main stage a well-dressed Perry, seemingly overjoyed to be a part of such a historic event in his hometown, assured folks watching that they would soon learn more about Jesus as the story unfolds.
Country singer Trisha Yearwood had the honor of playing Mary the mother of Jesus, and although she looked stunning, her performances, which were heavily emphasized, felt a bit inauthentic and lacked the passion one hoped to see from a mother who witnessed the death of her son. Throughout the night she sung Whitney Houston's "Your Love," Jewel's "Hands," Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" and she ended by standing in front of the 20-foot illuminated cross singing Lifehouse's "Broken."
"The Passion" highlighted some specific scriptures found in the Bible such as when Jesus asks his disciple who they believe he is, and Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." They also touched on the verses in which Jesus forewarns his disciples of his impending death and resurrection, as well as the last supper with five loaves and two fishes that he orders from a local food cart. Jesus sings Creed's "With Arms Wide Open" after praying for the upcoming suffering to pass over him but then asks for God's will to be done anyways.
The garden of Gethsemane was transformed into an abandoned homeless lot for the most riveting scene in "The Passion." Canela gave his best performance of the night singing Train's "Calling All Angels" right before being betrayed by Judas with a kiss and being picked up by police in riot gear.
Jesus' disciples Judas and Peter, played by American Idol's Daughtry and Latin star Prince Royce, respectively, sung Evanescence's "Bring Me to Life" and the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" after both feeling guilty of betrayal and denial.
When the pre-recorded scenes ended and the story of Christ finally made it to the main stage, Pontius Pilate, played by Seal, was introduced. Giving one of the best acting performances of the night, Pilate interrogated Jesus and sentenced him to death. Seal gave villainous performances of Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero" and Gary Jules' "Mad World."
Soon after, the procession made an epic entrance into the park. During the two-hour special, Perry served as the glue to keep the present day production flowing with the biblical accounts of Jesus. He explained that Judas sold Jesus for just $1000 dollars and passionately described the moments when Jesus died for the sins of the world.
He detailed that 7-inch nails were put through Jesus' hands and ankles, dramatically stating that his cause of death was suffocation.
"His death fulfilled the prophecy of the scripture," Perry said. "[He] sacrificed himself for the forgiveness of all our sins"
"He won't give up, so don't you give up," Perry told viewers as the camera panned the sea of emotional faces at Woldenberg Park. The multi-talented filmmaker also acknowledged that it was up to audience members what they believe, but stated that millions of people believe in Jesus.
Finally for the grand finale Jesus resurrected on the rooftop of a nearby Westin hotel and belted out the song "Unconditionally" by Katy Perry. Everyone soon joined in singing and the audience members pulled out their cellphones to record Jesus on the roof – just as they would if the resurrection happened today.
"The Passion" ended how it began, with gospel singer Yolanda Adams powerfully singing "When The Saint" to close the night.
The elaborate production is a format originally created in the Netherlands. The Dutch version of the epic event has been produced annually since 2011 and has aired for the last five consecutive years.