NEW ORLEANS (Christian Examiner) – Trisha Yearwood has sung in front of sold-out arenas, sold 15 million albums, and won three Grammys, but she says it's nothing compared to what she will do on Palm Sunday when she plays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a unique re-telling of the Gospel story live on Fox.
"I'm nervous about it," she told Christian Examiner. "I know I can sing, but there's so much about this that is so emotional."
Hosted and narrated by Tyler Perry, "The Passion" musical will air live on March 20 at 8 p.m. Eastern from the streets of New Orleans, with well-known talent playing biblical characters. Seal, for example, will play Pontius Pilate, and Michael W. Smith will play an unnamed disciple. Actor and singer Jencarlos Canela will play Christ.
The setting, though, is not first century Jerusalem but 21st century America. And instead of typical songs that would appear in an Easter play, contemporary songs – some of them pop — will be used. The concept is borrowed from a similar musical in the Netherlands.
"I think it's going to be an epic event. I think it's going to be amazing," Yearwood said. "It's telling a universal story with artists and actors from every walk of life. It has the potential to be a huge event. You'll hear these songs, and the context that they will be in, and you'll go, 'Oh, that makes sense. I've never thought about that song that way, but in this setting it makes sense.'"
The event also will feature a procession of hundreds of people carrying a 20-foot, illuminated cross to New Orleans' Woldenberg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River spoke with Yearwood about "The Passion." Following is a partial transcript:
Christian Examiner: How did you get involved in this project?
Trisha Yearwood: It's all [producer] Adam Anders' fault. He called and was so compelling. I almost say he really didn't give me a choice. He had it worked out in his head, and he knew what the songs were going to be. And he had decided that I could sing them. He really believed in me and thought that I could do it. I hung up the phone and I said, "I said yes to that and I think it's going to be really cool." But then it sunk in: Oh my, I just signed on to be one of the most iconic mothers in the history of the world. That's a big responsibility. And the songs are different and challenging.
CE: You've sung in front of huge audiences before. What makes this different?
Yearwood: I've seen so many versions of the Easter story. Growing up in Georgia in a Methodist church, I've heard this story ever since I was born. For me, it's a spiritual experience as well as a musical experience. It's not like going to sing the National Anthem at the World Series. For me, singing these songs and telling an amazing story ... it's going to be so emotional. I got very emotional recording the songs for the soundtrack. I'm in the studio – not standing at the foot of the cross – singing a song and knowing what it represents, it was emotional. I don't mind getting emotional. I don't mind if that happens live. But I need to be able to get through the songs. I'm worried about that a little bit.
CE: Have you ever played a biblical character?
Yearwood: I have not. I was thinking about that. I have been in so many productions – plays and musicals in college, and musical theaters. I did a lot of stuff in church as a kid, but I never did anything like this.
CE: Describe what people are going to see when they watch it on television.
Yearwood: I grew up in church, so I sat through a lot of sermons where I was just trying to stay awake, because I wasn't relating to it, especially as a younger person. I always loved going to church where I had a preacher that brought Scripture to life for me and my life now. And I think that's what the goal for this – to stay true to Scripture, which I love, but also to bring it to today. The story of love and forgiveness, and struggle and hope, is a story that we all need to hear, no matter what you believe. There's a takeaway here that is important for everybody. The goal is to tell the story in a way that hopefully everyone can relate to it.