Arts / Entertainment

“The Passion” Brings Whole City of New Orleans Into Start of Holy Week

When live production finishes, area churches, including St. Louis Cathedral, will open their doors to evangelize

“I didn’t want to create a show just for believers. I wanted to reach those who know nothing!”

Adam Anders is talking about his latest project, The Passion, a creative and contemporary retelling of the Gospel narrative which will be broadcast live from New Orleans on Palm Sunday. Anders is executive producer and executive music producer for The Passion. At Fox’s New Orleans studio, he talked to reporters about the project.

The son of Christian missionaries, Anders grew up attending church in Sweden. Here in the states he has enjoyed a successful Hollywood career — selling more than 80 million albums and developing songs for films such as Rock of Ages and TV shows, including Glee. His work has earned four Grammy award nominations as well as two People’s Choice Awards and two Golden Globe awards. With The Passion he returns to his Christian roots, bringing his extensive talent and experience to bear in retelling the story of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Anders first got the idea for The Passion after he was invited to attend a similar large-scale production in Holland. In that country, he reported, only 7 percent of the population goes to church. In contrast, since the musical production of The Passion was introduced there in 2011, it has been viewed by more than 50 percent of Holland’s populace. Anders was excited to realize that this performance could bring the Gospel to people who might otherwise know nothing about it.

“The Catholic Church [in the Netherlands] got behind it, helping to fund and promote it,” Anders told me. “It just took the country by storm. So when I saw that response in a country that’s largely atheist, I thought This is perfect! We’ve got to get it here!

The Passion features a star-studded cast from a wide range of musical genres. Tyler Perry is the host and narrator. Cuban American singer/songwriter/actor Jencarlos Canela will play Jesus, clad in a beige trenchcoat. Chris Daughtry stars as Judas, and Trisha Yearwood portrays Jesus’ mother, Mary. British singer/songwriter Seal steps into the role of Pontius Pilate. Christian artist Michael W. Smith plays a disciple. And Nischelle Turner, entertainment correspondent for CNN and anchor/correspondent for Entertainment Tonight in effect plays herself — as a reporter on the streets of New Orleans, interviewing people from the crowd during the live procession. Three musical groups — a band from Los Angeles, a New Orleans jazz band and a choir of voices from local churches — will perform, and there will be an appearance by New Orleans’ famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

The procession will originate at New Orleans’ iconic Superdome, where thousands of displaced persons took refuge during Hurricane Katrina. The relevance of New Orleans as a “resurrected city” is not lost on Anders. “Tyler Perry, who grew up in New Orleans, will talk about it,” he told me. “The Superdome, where this starts, has become a symbol of suffering. There is, in people’s minds, that powerful visual of people trapped by the swirling floodwaters. So many lives have been changed — for better and worse. The city lost thousands of people, some who died and some who left and never came back. My own brother lived here and never returned after Katrina. Now he’s back here for the first time — he’ll be playing in the band.”

From the Superdome, 1000 volunteers will help carry a 20-foot lighted cross, winding through the French Quarter, along Canal Street and Bourbon Street, past historic New Orleans landmarks. Finally, the cross will reach its destination — Woldenberg Park, where a massive 10-story stage has been erected beside the Mississippi River, and where the musical performances will occur. As many as 40,000 are expected to join in, lining the procession route and filling the concert venue.

Asked whether he’s concerned about inclement weather or unexpected incidents among the crowd, Anders was optimistic. “Obviously, we have backup plans in place, in case things go horribly wrong. I just can’t worry about the weather. You’d think, with a project like this, that God will smile upon us and make sure the weather is good.”

Besides God’s cooperation, Anders is depending on the logistical support of New Orleans’ police and politicians. Louisiana’s lieutenant governor is expected to participate in some way; New Orleans’ mayor will sing in the choir. The police will help control crowds and ensure that the processional cross is able to navigate busy intersections. There are train tracks to be crossed and helicopters flying overhead, and permission was required for service interruptions.