Tyler Perry Talks Appeal and Challenges of Fox's Live Jesus Musical

"It’s live television and ultimately something is going to go wrong, and sometimes that’s what makes the best moments," said 'The Passion' EP Mark Bracco.
Amy Sussman
Tyler Perry

When TV cameras descend on New Orleans on Palm Sunday, it won’t be for a religious service but rather for a live Fox musical event.

On March 20, the network will air The Passion, a modern-day musical retelling of the Jesus of Nazareth story, as he presides over the Last Supper and then is betrayed by Judas, put on trial by Pontius Pilate, convicted, crucified and resurrected. The classic tale, which will be told through the music of Whitney Houston, Imagine Dragons and others, will unfold live over two hours at some of New Orleans' most iconic locations. The ambitious production is expected to culminate in a procession of hundreds carrying a 20-foot illuminated cross from Champion Square outside the Superdome to a live stage at Woldenburg Park.

Country music star Trisha Yearwood has already signed on to star as Mary, and singer Prince Royce was tapped to play the disciple Peter. (The producers are still narrowing in on their Jesus.) Serving as Passion's narrator is Tyler Perry, who suggested the story, the plan to tell it through popular music and the setting all appealed to him as both a practicing Christian and a New Orleans native. When asked why he'd sign on to a project that he hadn't conceived, the prolific producer joked: “You want to know why it’s not Tyler Perry’s Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry?” He then added of his backseat role: “And I’m going to enjoy every minute because it’s a vacation for me.”

The producers used the Television Critics Association's winter press tour platform to explain just how they intend to pull it off. Helping to make the case was format creator Jacco Doornbos, who stages Passion as an annual event in Holland. "It’s become the largest TV event of the year there," he explained, noting that it earns more than a 40 percent market share.

Among the questions asked: what happens if it rains, to which Doornbos insisted the show would go on. In fact, it rained the fifth time it was staged in Holland and, he said, "it turned out to be even more emotional.” Others wondered what would happen if an ambulance or fire truck comes through during the procession. EP Mark Bracco suggested the latter was a real possibility since only some of the streets will be closed, and if that were to happen the procession would have to stop. "It’s live television and ultimately something is going to go wrong," he added, "and sometimes that’s what makes the best moments."