Review: ‘The Passion’ sings on DVD

passion

Chris Daughtry and Jencarlos Canela in ‘The Passion.’

The Passion, which aired live on Fox last spring, is a new musical retelling of Jesus’ final days that’s new on DVD Tuesday, Oct. 4 from Shout! Factory, as a 77-minute performance with no extras.

But how new is it?

Obviously, its Biblical story  is over two thousand years old. But beyond that, The Passion’s use of pop songs to convey its plot has been done — and done better — in the smash 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar,.a hard act to follow in giving Bible sagas contemporaneity.

But wait: I’m not condemning The Passion, which is earnestly and often beautifully performed, and which does have novel spins.

One is setting the story in current New Orleans, where producer Tyler Perry hosts and narrates from a large riverside stage before an adoring audience, intercut with on-location footage of actor-singers performing much of the story in grimy urban settings, as they ultimately wind their way to join other performers onstage.

Even after you get used to the modern-age setting’s jarring incongruities, the headset mics are off-putting. And how many aerial shots do we need?

But the performers are excellent — musically, at least — as they sing such soulful material as Phillip Phillips’ Home and Imagine Dragon’s Demons, artfully welded onto the age-old narrative of Christ’s teachings, betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection.

Don’t worry: Though Perry describes the crucifixion — and a bit too vividly — it isn’t depicted. Mel Gibson’s gruesome The Passion of the Christ this is not.

Especially strong in the cast are Jencarlos Canela as Jesus; Chris Daughtry as Judas; Seal as Pontius Pilate; and Prince Royce as Peter. Isolated on the stage to sing songs attributed to Mary, Trisha Yearwood is less compelling (would Mary have worn a fancy evening dress, even if placed in current times?) even while belting.

But the gospel chorus in the upper wings bolsters the show’s stage-set numbers and is used ably by executive producer and executive music director Adam Anders, the man who made such grand use of choral vocals while leading the musical charge on Glee, whose hundreds of superb songs are an achievement for which he gets too little credit.

Besides, they had me at Katy Perry — that is, with the final song of The Passion, her awesomely stirring Unconditionally. I love that song. And though The Passion redefined it from Perry’s plaintive plea to a rousing and celebratory big-kick finish, it worked.

So be advised: Regardless of your religious convictions (or perhaps an aversion I share to the overrated tourist destination of New Orleans), this show has some outstanding music. And for some of us, music can be as spiritually meaningful as any sermon or sanctuary, because music — the universal language — speaks directly and powerfully to the heart.

— Bruce Westbrook

 

 

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