A mixture of the sacred and profane, of the hokey and the holy, Fox’s “The Passion” brought a hugely popular annual Dutch television event to New Orleans Sunday. The result: A mix.
Tyler Perry narrated this live two-hour sprawl, as a 20-foot neon-illuminated cross was carried from Champion Square near the Superdome to the stage at Woldenberg Park. There were pop songs, big stars like Trisha Yearwood, and a rough approximation of the Stations of the Cross. There were crowds, street reporters, and (of course) people taking selfies.
The Passion — or more concisely “the suffering,” beginning with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and ending with his crucification a week later — has been staged endless times since the Middle Ages, but never quite like this. Yearwood, as Mary, covered Jewel’s “Hands” and Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” Seal, as Pontius Pilate, did a rousing “Mad World” from Tears for Fears. “American Idol’s” Chris Daughtry as Judas performed Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life.”
Telenovela and Latin pop music star Jencarlos Canela was Jesus, and he covered “With Arms Wide Open” (Creed), also Pat Monahan and Train’s much-covered “Calling All Angels.”
They were all familiar songs and good covers for the most part, while New Orleans’ weather cooperated too. The complex production — “Glee’s” Adam Anders was musical producer Mark Bracco of Dick Clark Productions staged the show — was largely seamless, with a few glitches.
But something was missing in Sunday’s big Passionpalooza — based on a popular Dutch TV event of the last few years — beside most of the Stations of the Cross. (There are fourteen, for the record. Not even half that number were staged here.) 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.