The latest adaptation of the Passion narratives of the New Testament, where Jesus moves from the Last Supper to the Cross, is now a musical adaptation featuring the work of major contemporary musicians. Narrated by Tyler Perry, the live television event The Passion: Live New Orleans from March 20, 2016 is now available on DVD.
While the dialogue is sparse, the creative use of music to highlight scenes from Jesus life - like the Last Supper, like Judas’ wrestling match with his own soul - and delivers it in ways that I have seen previously done well in worship services. While traditional understandings of the story may be slightly tweaked to fit the show’s production, it’s clear from what we hear and see that this is about Jesus who lived, died, and rose again.
The main cast stars Jencarlos as Jesus Christ, Trisha Yearwood as Mary the mother of Jesus, Prince Royce as Peter, Chris Daughtry as Judas Iscariot, and Seal as Pontius Pilate. After a musical intro by Yolanda Adams singing David Guetta’s “When Love Takes Over,” it slides to a montage of the ensemble cast singing Celine Dion’s “Love Can Move Mountains,” as Jesus gathers up the disciples. These are solid sounding, and the movement around New Orleans is powerful, but the show arcs to a higher stage when Jesus gathers his friends together for the Last Supper.
Jencarlos delivers with Creed’s “Bring Me to Life” after sharing what his life (and the bread and cup) should mean; juxtaposed to that is Daughtry’s soulful use of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” as he struggles. But Jencarlos steals most of our attention - again delivering with Train’s “Calling All Angels” - in fact, he’ll also duet with Daughtry (Imagine Dragon’s “Demons”) and Seal (Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero”). And then he’ll rally again for Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally.”
While this pushes the Passion story into a broader, more public realm outside of the church, and highlights the love of God for everyone, there are some things that are lost in translation (including a more traditional scene). It’s entertaining - and sounds terrific - but it won’t be replacing my Lenten exploration of more traditional films like The Passion of the Christ, The Mission, The Young Messiah, or others that focus on the struggle. If anything, this Passion felt a little too slick, a little too painless, a little too showboat.
And yet, I’m reminded that not everyone receives the gospel the same way - or at the same time. For some, The Passion: Live New Orleans may just be the translation they need.