I have news.
I have commentary.
First, the news.
Fox has tapped Tyler Perry to host and narrate the musical, The Passion. According to a recent press release on the network’s site, the two-hour musical will be filmed live in New Orleans March 20, which is Palm Sunday. The musical is supposed to follow the last two hours of Jesus Christ’s life. Here is a quote from the Fox website announcing Perry’s leading role.
The Passion is both wonderfully entertaining and genuinely inspirational,” said David Madden, President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company. “We are so thrilled to have the multi-talented Tyler Perry join us for this epic music production. He is the perfect host to lead the cast – and viewers – through the streets of New Orleans in this contemporary re-telling of a timeless story.
Now the commentary.
It is no secret that The Wiz, which we covered extensively, was a hit for NBC, which has no problem bringing out brown and black faces for ratings. I shoal wish that would translate into programming.
Fox, not to be outdone, is throwing out three live musical presentations, two of which have Black actors as the lead characters. Laverne Cox is set to play Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Perry is set to host “The Passion,” so I assume he is not playing Jesus. Hollywood tends to give biblical character roles to guys from Australia and the U.K.
And I suppose The Passion makes a lot of sense. Perry is no stranger to theater, having established his core following with religiously-tinged plays that turned into movies, that turned into TV shows, that turned into a succession of Perry rip-off artists, that turned into me reading more books.
This is definitely a no-brainer for Fox. We happen to be riding a very dangerous anti-Muslim wave right now fanned by fear, and buoyed by the GOP debates. So airing a musical where we can see a gigantic cross being dragged down one of our oldest cities in America is not just entertainment. It is a message.
So I get it. Ratings. Christian Agenda. A combination punch for the network. But what about those of us who love theater?
Despite the racist comments about a musical that was created out of a lack of diversity, people really seemed to enjoy The Wiz Live. There was a conversation sparked amongst different generations. The production had the best of Hollywood and the theater world combining with newcomers to recreate a classic that engaged us. That is what good theater does.
Will “The Passion” be able to do the same? I don’t know. To be fair, the movie “The Passion of Christ” kicked secular A$$, raking in over $600 million worldwide. It is not as though the subject and character of Jesus doesn’t spark interest, mystery and debate.
I am just saying it feels a little calculating. It doesn’t feel like an attempt to bring people to theater. Nor is it a chance to learn and be amazed by live performances. It feels like a political and financial agenda. But the thing ain’t even aired yet. Maybe I will be proven wrong. Maybe I just need to pray on it.