Tyler Perry’s ‘The Passion’ was a live television production on Fox, bringing the biblical story of the final days of Jesus Christ to the streets of New Orleans. It arrived with much anticipation and fanfare on Palm Sunday and now the television critics are weighing in. Check out a roundup of reviews and see video highlights.
Now the second time around for the Fox network — after ‘Grease: Live!’ earlier this year — this new live production featured an all-star cast encompassing music performers from a notable variety of musical genres and ethnic backgrounds, including Jencarlos Canela as Jesus Christ, Trisha Yearwood as Mary, Chris Daughtry as Judas, and Seal portraying Pontius Pilate as well as gospel star Yolanda Adams. Add to the mix a wide variety of pop music classics — notably Seal performing ‘Mad World’ as well as ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ and you’ve got quite a panoply. Tyler Perry served as the narrator of the production that sprawled in the streets of New Orleans.
Unlike some of the now traditional theatrical re-envisioning of the familiar story — think ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Godspell’ principally — this production was distinctive with its infusion of many pop songs, rock songs, and even club songs. Some critics took issue, disparagingly comparing it to American Idol.
It was an ambitious production on many levels, literally. Not just the challenge of interweaving a live production on city streets with the prerecorded portions, but the re-envisioning itself. The Passion in New Orleans? Some might not have anticipated or expected, but Tyler Perry clearly had a vision.
In interviews, he has been quite vocal about his intentions. He told Deadline, “There is no better setting than New Orleans, it’s the perfect setting. Of course it’s also what I grew up with. Every Easter Sunday -– it’s a huge thing in every Christian church, but in the Black church especially.”
Continuing, he said, “Everyone got new clothes, new shoes, hats. Even to this day, the church is just filled with people, there are plays about the Resurrection and His life, and the stories were preached from pulpits.”
He also spoke out about the kind of audience he wanted to reach, both Christian and non-Christian, saying, “I know that the intention of everyone involved is to be inclusive. It is a story about love and compassion and forgiveness.”
Now as is always the case with live productions — now that we have experienced quite a few — social media weighs in with instantaneous reactions. And in the aftermath, so too have the television critics. Here’s a roundup of what they have to say:
“….After all the bland, packaged uplift, the show ended with the cast onstage clapping along to a number that actually embodied both the religious message and the particular setting of the evening, Yolanda Adams’s spirited rendition of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ backed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Finally, some passion.”…..”– New York Times
“….With this crowded roster of players and elements, The Passion mostly avoided any contemporary commentary, unless we count those police-as-villains or Jesus and his fellow cross-bound convicts attired in Orange-Is-The-New-Black jumpsuits. In what might have been an anti-capital punishment message, Perry described a crucifixion in gruesome step-by-step detail. “What’s happening to Jesus in these moments is beneath humanity,” he said. Nevertheless, unlike most Passion Plays, he left the visuals to the imagination….” — Deadline Hollywood
“…Fox deserved considerable credit for invigorating the live-musical form that NBC has championed with its production of “Grease Live,” but the network hit the skids with “The Passion,” a project that seemed to pander on multiple levels. Beyond catering to Christians who often lament a lack of fare aimed at them on mainstream TV – albeit in the most Sunday-school-lite of ways – the rock songs and contemporary setting sought to package scripture for the “American Idol” crowd. Throw in the procession involving an illuminated 20-foot cross, and cursing the darkness felt preferable to watching for a full two hours…..” — Variety
“…For many viewers, and, one would guess, for most of the people that turned out in New Orleans, the mere fact of the program’s existence will outweigh any concerns about its quality; it will be enough that a cross was carried through the streets, and that Jesus got prime-time coverage on a broadcast network. I wouldn’t argue with anyone’s emotional or spiritual reaction to ‘The Passion,’ anymore than I would argue with their love for these singers or these songs, in whatever proportion they worked on you. Many in the crowd were visibly moved; that’s not anything a critic can review……” — L.A. Times
“…. And there’s no question many in the crowd were moved; there were tear-stained faces during Perry’s recounting of the crucifixion and cheers when he reached the resurrection. If you were one of those people for whom this version worked, then God bless…..” –USA Today
“….Fox’s take on the story of the crucifixion comes live from New Orleans, with the aid of pop music and some inescapably campy production choices……” — The Guardian
“….This all felt too commercial, too slick, too “American Idol”-ized. The Passion is Christianity’s foundational story. This usually — also awkwardly and regrettably — felt like just another TV one. …” — Newsday
The critics have weighed in, and, quite divided, as was social media. But now that the live television event has come and gone, the video remains; click here to watch the full broadcast of Tyler Perry’s ‘The Passion’ and see the highlights below!
Pictures: PR Photos