All-star 'Passion' musical aims to tell the Gospel story in a new key

The Passion. Credit: FOX.
The Passion. Credit: FOX.

.- Actor and singer Jencarlos Canela will play the role of Jesus in a live musical dramatization of The Passion on Palm Sunday. Only he’s still not sure how.

“How do I prepare for the role of Jesus Christ? Whoever knows the answer to that question, call me before Sunday,” Canela joked.

“Honestly, it’s a huge honor,” he told CNA March 18.

Canela plays the lead role in “The Passion,” a two-hour musical event airing Sunday, March 20 on Fox at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

With the help of famous musical performers, the event will dramatize the Last Supper, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, the trial before Pontius Pilate and Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection.

The event include a live procession of a 20-foot illuminated cross. Hundreds of people will help carry the cross through the streets of New Orleans from the Superdome to the stage at Woldenberg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River.

For Canela, playing the role of Jesus prompted a lot of reflection.

“Anyone who tries to fill those shoes is just setting themselves up for failure,” he said. He decided to see himself as “the thirteenth disciple” along with the other performers in the play.

“It’s not about myself, it’s not about any individual member, it’s the unity between all of us,” Canela said. “We’re all coming together to tell a story that’s way bigger than all of us: a story about love, hope.”

The star-filled cast includes Tyler Perry as host and narrator. Tricia Yearwood will play the role of Mary, Prince Royce will play Peter, Chris Daughtry will play Judas, and Seal will play as Pontius Pilate. The event’s musical producer is Adam Anders, who has been involved in “Glee” and “Rock of Ages.”

Canela reflected on the role his faith and experience plays, saying that God is “at the center of my life and everything I do.”

The actor said Jesus’ role in the Passion was a reminder of “how human he was at moments, emotionally.”

“It helped me identify so much with the story,” he said.

The production’s creative choices won’t make people who prefer traditional Passion performances feel disrespected, according to Canela.

“You can literally follow the story with a Bible in your hand. Word for Word,” he said.

The show’s website links to Bible resources from the American Bible Society, as well as discussion guides and a family devotional.

At the same time, the event portrays the Passion using contemporary costumes and music.

“A 2,000-year-old story with songs of our time. It’s genius,” Canela said. “We have songs we’ve heard 100,000 times, but never within this context.”

The musical adapts songs like Celine Dion’s “Love Can Move Mountains,” Creed’s “Arms Wide Open,” Katy Perry’s “Unconditionally,” Train’s “Calling All Angels” and Imagine Dragons’ “Demons.”

“Now you’re hearing your favorite songs, telling a story. Whether you’ve been exposed to it or not, you’ve never been exposed to it in this way,” the lead reflected. “I think, it’s a beautiful way to really get to people’s hearts and minds with the Word of God.”

Canela credited Immaculate Conception School in Hialeah, Florida with starting his singing career – and helping him overcome his stage fright. When he was about 10 years old, his teacher chose him to sing “Amazing Grace” at the parish church. Just before he was to perform, he hid in the bathroom instead.

Now it is different for Canela.

“God has given me the gift to travel the world with my music singing on stage in front of huge audiences,” he said. “I started becoming a young man in that church. I was exposed to the essence of this wonderful story that we’re telling on Sunday. It definitely had a huge part in the man I am today.”

Tags: Catholic News, Catholic art, Holy Week, Musicals, Palm Sunday


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