New York – — Fox’s Bible-based musical “The Passion” worked no miracles on viewers.
The live telecast Sunday, hosted by Tyler Perry, drew a meager 6.6 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings company. That was roughly half the audience for Fox’s January broadcast of “Grease: Live,” seen by 12.2 million viewers.
“The Passion” originated from New Orleans, with stars including Trisha Yearwood, Chris Daughtry and Jencarlos Canela.
For those viewers who didn’t change the channel to rival programming like “Little Big Shots” or “Once Upon a Time,” the two-hour Fox “live spectacular” was a spectacular-and-then-some exercise in excess.
Arriving on Palm Sunday with the preternaturally prolific Tyler Perry as host, it was certainly ambitious.
Following in the footsteps of recent live TV musicals including “Peter Pan” and “The Wiz,” ‘’The Passion” went even beyond “Grease: Live” by originating almost totally outdoors, and, in its song-and-drama sequences, turning New Orleans into its backdrop. (For this, give credit as you will: The evening weather was perfect for a telecast.)
With multitudes gathered around the outdoor stage where Perry presided, the program played somewhat like a musical crusade — “New Orleans is our Jerusalem,” Perry declared, crediting it as a city that, post-Hurricane Katrina, has experienced a resurrection of its own.
Produced by dick clark productions, this version of “The Passion” told the familiar tale of the final hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, including the Last Supper, crucifixion and resurrection — but staged in a modern-day setting, in casual wear, with recycled pop songs.
“It’s a story of friendship, betrayal, faith and forgiveness,” Perry said. “But ultimately ‘The Passion’ is about the power of love.”
Besides serving in a key role as narrator to keep the choppy structure intact, Perry was also called upon to introduce commercial breaks: “When we return, Judas struggles with an unthinkable decision.” He logged plenty of camera time.
The program’s overgrown events also included a 20-foot illuminated cross carried in a procession of scores of locals from the Super Dome — site of so much misery during Katrina — with renewed hope through the French Quarter to Woldenberg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River, where the broadcast was based.
To keep tabs on the cross’s progress, a correspondent was on hand for regular dispatches and interviews with participants as the procession made its way.
Performers included Trisha Yearwood (Mary), Seal (Pontius Pilate), Chris Daughtry (Judas) and Jencarlos Canela (Jesus), who all delivered in full-throated fashion. The collection of established hits, by turns joyous and soulful, welled over with positive energy, if little else.
“When I look into your eyes,/ It’s like watching the night sky,/ Or a beautiful sunrise,” sings Yearwood to her son, Jesus, repurposing “I Won’t Give Up,” a hit by Jason Mraz that, like most of the songs, hardly did justice to this night’s sacred purpose.
The grand exception, also by Yearwood: the classic anthem of faith, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the 70-year-old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel.” It was perhaps the night’s most stirring moment.
Part musical pageant, part tent revival minus the tent, “The Passion” was a different sort of TV show, full of good feeling and reaffirmation. Credit to all for that.
Unfortunately, the songs and dramatics weren’t compelling enough to snag anyone but the pre-sold. For those believers, it must have been a celebration.
For potential converts, it was not so much entertainment as long-winded and preachy.
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