NEW ORLEANS (Christian Examiner) – It's not every weekend that a major TV network broadcasts on live television a musical about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, but that is what Fox will do Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern when it airs "The Passion," starring a host of well-known talent.
This two-hour Easter-themed project, though, isn't your typical church musical. Although it follows the biblical script, it is set in modern-day times – New Orleans, to be exact – and will feature modern pop music.
The concept originated in the Netherlands where it is wildly popular and airs each year on Dutch television.
Actor and singer Shane Harper, a Christian who plays a disciple in the musical, said he believes "The Passion" will reach people who rarely attend church.
"I'm really drawn to the idea. It's very intriguing. It's very daring. It's definitely unique," Harper told Christian Examiner. "It's going to reach beyond the church community and beyond people who understand church culture. I think that's really powerful: to be able to go primetime and have a lot of people get reintroduced to the biblical narrative."
Harper is known for his roles in "God's Not Dead, "High School Musical 2" and Nickelodeon's "Dance on Sunset."
Tyler Perry will host and narrate "The Passion," while singer Trisha Yearwood will play Mary, mother of Jesus. Actor and singer Jencarlos Canela will play the role of Christ.
Christian Examiner spoke with Harper about "The Passion" and his background. Following is a partial transcript:
CE: This is not your typical play or musical you would see around Easter. Why do you think a modern-day re-telling of Jesus' story is needed?
Harper: It's definitely not your typical re-telling. The disciples are wearing jeans and jackets and sneakers, and the music is modern pop hits. But it's dead-on theologically. All the dialogue between the songs is taken straight from Scripture, which is really cool. But the backdrop is a vibrant, colorful way to bring the story to people's attention who might not go to church or might not even, at first glance, seem interested in the Bible. Hopefully it gets a wide range of people watching.
CE: You also had a role in "God's Not Dead." What has attracted you to faith-based projects?
Harper: They are incredibly attractive to me because of my personal walk with the Lord. They grab my attention really quickly when I see them come across my desk, so to speak. This one is very special and incredibly unique. I'm passionate about bringing the church to the culture – not only bringing people into the building but also sharing all of the hope that is in the Gospel message. I think people are going to love it.
CE: Tell us about your faith background.
Harper: I grew up in church. My parents were saved during the 80s, and I grew up loving the Lord. It's interesting: When you grow up in a family that is very churched and always talks about God, I think sometimes you take it for granted. Sometime around the age of 13, 14, 15 – that's when my faith started to become more robust. I found that authors like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and George MacDonald really captivated my imagination and interest. I got into the entertainment business around age 13, and my faith really needed to have strong roots. I was in the workplace, kind of like an adult – going to work and various topics would come up. And [when you're in that situation,] you have to know what your faith means in a real-world context.