The day producers of Fox’s two-hour live “musical event” The Passion announced they’d cast Trisha Yearwood in the role of Mary, mother of Jesus, producers came to TCA to discuss other details of the project, which will be broadcast on Palm Sunday from various locations in New Orleans. Tyler Perry, who’d previously been announced as the project’s narrator and host, got asked why he’d signed on to the project, given that it’s not under his total creative control.
“You want to know why it’s not Tyler Perry’s Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry’s The Passion,” Perry joked, accurately. He said that when he learned it would be sit in his hometown of New Orleans, he was “in.” Perry, who noted he is Christian, expressed enormous enthusiasm for telling the story in a contemporary setting, with contemporary music “so not only people who are believers but people who are from all walks of life” will “get it and understand it and love it just as I do.” When authorities arrest Jesus, they’ll show up in cop cars and he’ll next be seen in an orange jumpsuit, as a for instance.
EP Mark Bracco said they are focused on their Jesus – “someone who’s a great actor and also a great singer” – and hope to “nail it” relatively soon. Yes, he did. Ballroom full of press groaned and laughed, and Bracco, realizing his unintended pun, turned a pretty shade of pink.
In December, Fox announced it had greenlit The Passion, based on a format created in the Netherlands by Eye2Eye Media’s Jacco Doornbos. The Dutch version has been produced annually since 2011, commanding a 46% market share in 2015. Doornbos said he came up with the idea in 2007 when he learned only 25% of the Dutch population “was aware of what story of Easter was about, and that really shook me. I thought, whether from a religious standpoint or an historical standpoint, or a cultural standpoint, they need to know this story, because it’s part of our culture. And it’s part of the culture of the U.S.,” he added. “I wanted to bring the story back to the public space.”
Music producer Adam Anders (Glee, Rock of Ages), who’s arranging the music and is exec producing, insisted he “can’t think of a better network to partner with” on this project than Fox, because “it’s in the DNA, from Glee, to Empire to Idol.”
Asked if they were concerned the project might fan “anti-semitic feelings,” Bracco responded, “we are trying to tell the story as inclusively as possible, whether you are a believer or wantsto hear Trisha Yearwood sing a Whitney Houston song. We’re doing it in a way that’s young and modern and inclusive, and everyone can watch together as a family.” Doornbos said they will “tell the story just as it is…the actors will only have literal scripture. We don’t have our own opinion, because we weren’t there.”
The project is looking to capitalize on recent interest in both live TV musicals (NBC’s The Sound of Music, The Wiz!) and Jesus-themed programs The Bible and Killing Jesus. The U.S. adaptation will be produced by dick clark productions, working alongside Eye2Eye Media and Anders Media Inc.
The Passion follows the biblical story of Jesus of Nazareth as he presides over the Last Supper, is betrayed by Judas, put on trial by Pontius Pilate, convicted, crucified and resurrected. The live production will include a procession of people carrying a 20-foot, illuminated cross from Champion Square outside the Superdome to the live stage at Woldenburg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Here’s a video from a past broadcast of the Dutch production: