Although producers of "The Passion Live," broadcast live on Fox this Sunday, are quick to point out that their modern-day presentation of Jesus' last moments on earth before his death and resurrection isn't really a musical, but a "musical event," TV ratings will still be compared to such shows as "Grease: Live."
"If anybody should be doing it, it's Fox. Music runs through the fabric of the company, from Glee to Empire to Idol. If anybody should be in the live musical space, it's Fox," said executive producer Adam Anders in an interview with Billboard. "And this one's a little different – it's not like 'Grease,' 'The Sound of Music' or any of those because it has all these extra components. 'The Passion' is kinda its own genre, which is exciting, because it borrows from all those things and also paves the way."
Originally broadcast by Fox on January 31, 2016, "Grease: Live" was an adaptation of the 1971 musical "Grease." The network's three-hour live telecast had the performance averaging 12.2 million viewers and a 4.3 rating among adults 18-49.
Despite a top-notch promotional campaign, the buzz for "The Passion" was a bit slow to come. However, viewer interest came to a full-head of steam this week when its producers and stars stepped up their public journaling of their pre-production and rehearsal time in New Orleans via social media.
Tyler Perry, who will narrate the event, posted recently, "When I was asked to do this I thought, 'wait a second, FOX is gonna do what?' If you're like me at that time, then you're wondering 'what is The Passion?' Well, let me try to explain. It's not a musical like Grease or The Wiz, this is the story of Jesus Christ's last hours on earth, told as if He were on earth today."
He explained that the show will focus on the biblical story "told in modern times" and set to some of today's most popular songs performed throughout New Orleans. "There will also be people, like you and me, carrying a 20-foot illuminated cross through the streets. Talk about letting your little light shine," he said.
While skeptics may want to attach political meanings to an event broadcast nationally about faith, Perry, during a press junket in Los Angeles hosted by Fox said, "Personally, I feel it would do such a disservice to the story that we are all trying to tell by focusing [instead] on something that may matter to a lot of people" such as political and religious implications. "But when you talk about the love and compassion of Christ that's represented in this story and the agony of what he was going through at the time, there's so many more layers and colors, than trying to isolate or separate… When I think about Christ, I think about the inclusion of everyone."
For Christians a bit squeamish about the shows "modern" direction, the dialogue between Jesus and his disciples will be scripture (Good News Translation), said producers, who worked closely with the American Bible Society. Producers state that the event's format was originally created in the Netherlands by Jacco Doornbos and Eye2Eye Media. "The Dutch version of The Passion has been produced annually since 2011 and has aired consecutively for the last five years, becoming a pop culture phenomenon, commanding more than 46% market share in 2015."
"What makes it really special and worthwhile for all those years is that when we started in 2011 in the Netherlands, only 25 percent of the Dutch population knew what the story of Jesus was about," said Doornbos during a press roundtable. "Now, five years later, they did a new survey, and now it's 60 percent of the Dutch population. That's the reason we started developing this show."
Anders, who has worked on the project for two years, including arranging the music, told reporters that "The Passion" is the most important work of his life. He said that during the process he asked himself, "How can I tell this story not just for believers?"
"Obviously, this is a story you want everyone to hear… That is the essence of Jesus' message. It's for everyone to hear," Anders said. "Taking these songs, they are hit songs that people already know and relate to, that they were moved by prior in a different setting and now putting them into this incredibly powerful story… I'm in the studio doing this [and] I'm crying [and] I've got goose bumps."
For more information, including broadcast times in your area: http://thepassion.com/