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The Passion: A Misfire of Biblical Proportions

Fox's live Bible musical was a dull, lumbering mess

Liam Mathews

Lots of bad things have been done in Jesus' name. Fox's The Passion was not on the same level as, say, the Crusades, but it was not a worthwhile representation of Christianity or its vibrant tradition of storytelling. Instead, it was a dull, lumbering mess.

First of all, it was barely live. Most of the scenes of Jesus and the Disciples appeared to be pre-recorded, which seemed like a bait-and-switch, as Fox heavily promoted the show as a live event. At some point, the producers decided to film some scenes in advance, as the logistics of moving between locations within commercial breaks proved to be impossible. This turned out to be an unfortunate choice.

The performers, including Telenovela's Jencarlos Canela as Jesus and Chris Daughtry as Judas, did the best they could, and the sound was clear and well-mixed throughout the production. As Mary, Trisha Yearwood sang beautifully. The soundtrack was an odd, corny mix of mid-'00s anthem rock and treacly '90s pop hits, but they were well-arranged and emotively sung.Unfortunately, they were hamstrung by lifeless staging and constant interruption. The staging in particular seemed practically designed to inhibit dramatic momentum. Ping-ponging between the pre-recorded scenes, the stage in New Orleans' Woldenberg Park where the musicians and Yearwood performed and where Tyler Perry held forth with self-aggrandizing, flavorless narration and segments in which entertainment reporter Nischelle Turner interviewed people as they carried the (frankly underwhelming) crucifix through the streets of New Orleans was disruptive.

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The Passion ironically came to life in a scene in which Pontius Pilate (a dapper Seal) condemns Jesus to death. It's important to note that this sequence, unlike the others, was acted out as a live scene with music on the actual Woldenberg stage, the only portion of the proceedings that came close to replicating the Passion "play" as it's performed during Holy Week Mass. The scene integrated the live audience, as they shouted for Barabbas to be freed over Jesus. The scene's electricity -- and Seal's moving rendition of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" -- served only to remind us how great an actual live Passion could have been.

Jesus' resurrection was depicted by a dramatically lit Canela singing Katy Perry's "Unconditionally" from high atop a building that framed the park. It was this kind of spectacle that the rest of the production lacked.

In trying to recapture the success of Grease: Live, Fox forgot that what made that show work: its greased-lightning-quick pacing, innovative, itinerant staging and a lot of audience participation. Barring any of that, The Passion needed a miracle to save it.