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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Passion Live tells the 2,000-year-old story of Jesus Christ's passion, death, and resurrection in the modern setting of urban New Orleans. Host and narrator Tyler Perry introduces famous scenes such as the Last Supper and Jesus' agony to a live audience, advancing the story between the prerecorded segments that use current music from the likes of Imagine Dragons, Jason Mraz, and Jewel. At the same time, a procession of people carrying a cross travels the city toward Perry's location, and some of the participants give brief interviews about how the experience affects them. There's obvious emotion in the cast's performances and in scenes that show the live audience's reactions to affecting moments in the story, but even though there's discussion of Jesus' agony and death (Perry details the crucifixion process and how death finally occurs), none of it is presented visually. The translation of this familiar story to this modern-day setting will be confusing to some kids, but for those who get it, it's very moving to watch. And even though it's obviously rooted in Christianity, Perry reminds viewers that its themes transcend religion and relate to basic matters of human decency.
What's the story?
Tyler Perry hosts and narrates THE PASSION LIVE, a modern retelling of the story of Jesus Christ's last hours, death, and resurrection. Set in New Orleans and featuring music from Creed, Whitney Houston, and Katy Perry, among others, the story bounces between Perry's summations delivered to a live audience and prerecorded shorts set throughout the city showing Jesus (Jencarlos Canela) and his disciples sharing a last meal, discussing his imminent fate, being betrayed by Judas (Chris Daughtry), and eventually being condemned to death by Pontius Pilate (Seal). Also juxtaposed are scenes of an oversized illuminated cross carried through the city to Perry's stage, as well as moments when Mary (Trisha Yearwood) contemplates her son's fate and Peter (Prince Royce) denies Jesus, before the story ends with Christ's triumphant resurrection.
Is it any good?
This stirring production is unlike any previous rendition of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which makes its appeal somewhat hit or miss. To tell the story in such a piecemeal way -- interspersed with live narration and stage entertainment, plus a roaming reporter conducting man-on-the-street interviews as the cross journeys more than a mile to the main stage -- is no small undertaking, and the production team deserves praise just for pulling it off. That said, it takes some time to wrap your mind around the idea of Jesus riding mass transit and hitting a food truck for Last Supper supplies (loaves and fishes, of course), and the frequent interruptions for interviews with people in the cross procession are somewhat jarring to the story's fluidity. Ultimately this type of spin on this revered story is a stretch some viewers might not think is worth the effort.
But for those who don't mind a little unorthodoxy to their Easter story, The Passion Live delivers heartfelt performances from a talented cast and a surprisingly effective use of secular music to explore the characters' emotions and the story's themes of love, friendship, and triumph. Who knew that Imagine Dragons' "Demons" could so effectively set the tone for Judas' betrayal or that Jewel's "Hands" could have been written for Mary's devotion to her son? Even if you've never thought of these songs as having faith-based undertones, you will reconsider their message after hearing their place in this story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this presentation's effectiveness. Could you easily follow the parallels between the Easter story you know and the version the cast acted out? Did any parts not work for you? Why do you think the story omitted the crucifixion altogether? Did that help or hurt the overall effect?
Does this production seem geared toward believers alone, or does it aim to lure other viewers as well? To what degree can the story's themes relate to secular life as well as religious influences?
Discuss the use of music in this show. Did the modern songs work well in communicating emotion rooted in this religious story? Will having watched this change how you interpret these and other songs in the future? How does music move you? Inspire you?
- In theaters: March 20, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: October 4, 2016
- Cast: Jencarlos Canela, Tyler Perry, Chris Daughtry
- Directors: David Grifhorst, Robert Deaton
- Studio: Fox Network
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Holidays, Music and Sing-Along
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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