The event is being shot at nine locations in New Orleans in front of an audience of more than 25,000 on March 20, Palm Sunday. It will air live — but with an asterisk.
In order to make a production of this scale possible amid multiple locations, certain scenes were pre-taped weeks before, including those depicting the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal. Still, the show will provide a live experience for viewers, thanks to a choir and band performing simultaneously with the pre-shot segments, on-site at Woldenberg Park near Jackson Square.
“We’ll be cutting back to the live band, the live choir, the crowd in the park,” exec producer Mark Bracco of Dick Clark Prods. tells Variety. “It will all play as one big live experience, even though there are a few scenes that we have shot ahead of time, just because there was no possibility of getting from location to location within a commercial break.”
Aside from syncing up the pre-taped elements, a unique challenge for “The Passion” will be one of its signature live moments: a procession of 1,000 people walking the streets, holding the cross. (Procession-goers, who signed up online, hail from all over the country; local churches and news affiliates helped get the word out.) During the broadcast, Tyler Perry, who serves as the show’s narrator and host, will toss to a live reporter, who will interview attendees who traveled to New Orleans to carry the cross.
With that element, Bracco says, the event will be like three shows in one: “We have this massive procession, which we’re almost treating as a news event because we have a live reporter there, interviewing people. We have this massive live event, which is happening in the park. And then thirdly, we have scenes that we shot around the city that are almost like little mini-movies,” he explains.
“Glee” alum Adam Anders, who serves as music producer for “The Passion,” says that it’s difficult to define the production. “To call it a musical is maybe not the best fit,” he maintains. “It’s more of a beautiful event that has never been done before.”
Rehearsals have been significantly less intense than those for recent TV musicals like “Grease” or NBC’s “The Wiz,” because the religious vehicle isn’t packed with dance numbers. Instead, sessions have been spent in the studio with stars Trisha Yearwood (Mary), Seal (Pontius Pilate), “American Idol” alum Chris Daughtry (Judas) and Jencarlos Canela (Jesus).
Gospel songstress Yolanda Adams will open the production.