NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The tale of the final hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth has been told countless times — but on Sunday, Fox will broadcast a retelling with a modern-day musical twist, with the resurrected City of New Orleans as the backdrop.
“The Passion,” which airs at 8 p.m. EDT, is based on a format created in the Netherlands that has been produced annually since 2011 and aired for the last five years.
The U.S. version, produced by dick clark productions, follows Jesus as he presides over the Last Supper, and then is betrayed by Judas, put on trial by Pontius Pilate, convicted, crucified and resurrected. The cast includes “Telenovela” actor/singer Jencarlos Canela as Jesus, rocker Chris Daughtry as Judas, country singer Trisha Yearwood as Mary, British singer-songwriter Seal as Pontius Pilate and singer Prince Royce as Peter.
“New Orleans is an example of struggle, of redemption, of hope and grace. That city’s been through so much and to be the backdrop for this production gives the story a lot of layers,” Yearwood said.
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The two-hour live event is being hosted by New Orleans native and filmmaker Tyler Perry and includes opening and closing number by gospel singer Yolanda Adams.
“There’s so much negativity on TV and film that I had to be a part of something that’s going to encourage and uplift,” Perry said. “Love and compassion is at the heart of this story.”
The story is told in a modern way, but “respects the biblical essence of the story,” Canela said.
“A person that is a believer and is religious will see it and enjoy it and not feel like they’ve changed the word because the word is intact but it’s being surrounded with modern elements and modern music,” he said.
Executive producer Mark Bracco is hoping “The Passion” project will inspire families to gather on Palm Sunday and watch the latest in a string of recent live prime-time musicals that has included Fox’s staging of “Grease” held in January and NBC’s “The Wiz! Live,” in December.
“At its heart, it’s a religious event. But at the end of the day it’s a great story,” Bracco said.
The soundtrack includes songs ranging from Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” and Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” to Hoobastank’s “The Reason and Celine Dion’s “Love Can Move Mountains.”
Daughtry and Canela pair up on “Demons,” in the scene in which Judas betrays Jesus. “These are modern songs with a message that are very powerful and emotional. Despite your background or beliefs, the basis of the story is universal — love, compassion, acceptance and forgiving,” Daughtry said.
Yearwood will perform five songs during the broadcast.
“I’m out of my element,” she said. “It’s live, and I agreed to portray Mary. This is a big deal. I’ve asked all my friends to pray for me, and I’m serious. I really need for them to do it.”
Parts of the event will be staged live in New Orleans, including a procession of hundreds of people carrying a 20-foot, illuminated cross from Champion Square outside the Superdome to a stage at Woldenberg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Bracco noted that several local artists and actors were cast and scenes also were filmed at Audubon Park, in the French Quarter and along the Riverwalk.
Daughtry said the production “has a common theme of love, acceptance and forgiveness and I hope that it will do the same for us as a people. It really inspires togetherness.
“As much as New Orleans has bounced back, trial after trial after trial, I would love to see us as a community do the same thing,” he said.
Associated Press entertainment writer Lauri Neff in New York contributed to this story.