by Ben Dowell, Thursday January 26, 2006
THE BBC plans to mark the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ this Easter with an hour-long live procession through the streets of Manchester featuring pop stars from The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays and featuring songs by The Smiths and New Order.
In the programme, called Manchester Passion, a character representing Jesus will sing the legendary Joy Division anthem Love Will Tear Us Apart before dueting his arch-betrayer Judas on the New Order hit Blue Monday, according to senior church sources involved in the production.
Mary Magdelene, the penitent whore of the New Testament, is also getting in on the act: she is being lined up to sing the Buzzcocks hit Ever Fallen in Love (with Someone You Shouldn't have) accompanied by a string band.
Former Happy Monday and Celebrity Big Brother winner Bez will play a disciple.
The climax of the event sees Jesus sing the Smiths classic song Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now as he is being flailed by Roman soldiers. He will then come face-to-face with his Roman prosecutor Pontius Pilate with the two of them singing a duet of the Oasis hit Wonderwall and its chorus:
"I said maybeYou're gonna be the one who saves me?And after allYou're my wonderwall."
The broadcaster, which plans to show the event live on BBC3 on Good Friday, insisted the event was inspired by "the way Bach and other composers fused music and the Passion story".
The "contemporary retelling" of Jesus' last hours will begin with the messiah - who is yet to be cast - singing the Robbie Williams hit Angels, which will mark his procession into Jerusalem.
In this case, Jerusalem will be represented by Manchester's gay and red light area near Canal Street and the Passion scene will pass via Chinatown and St Peter's Square to culminate in Albert Square.
The march will be followed by members of the public who will be encouraged to join in the singing of relevant anthems, which include the M People hit Search for a Hero Inside Yourself.
The crowd will carry a large white cross and the public will also be asked to bring a symbol of their own burden - "something they are personally concerned about" - according to senior church sources involved in the programme.
The crowd will be joined by Bez - the entertainer famous for bashing his tambourine on stage with the Happy Mondays. He will be accompanied by former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown and Black Grape saxophonist Martin Slattery.
The event will end with the resurrected Jesus singing an as yet undisclosed song from the top of Manchester's town hall.
The show is being made by the corporation's classical music television department, which has won plaudits for its experimental music and drama work overseen by its head, Pater Maniura.
These include Flashmob: the Opera - a live opera event staged among commuters at Paddington station in London in which members of the public performed a song inspired by the Orpheus legend - and the forthcoming Riot at the Rite, a dramatisation of the notorious first performance of Stravinsky's ballet the Rites of Spring, to be aired in March.
While the event is likely to raise eyebrows among more traditional-minded Christians, it has the broad support of both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church in the area.
Church of England spokeswoman Gillian Oliver said: "We are working with the BBC on this and are very pleased to be taking the good news of the gospel onto the streets of Manchester. If anything, something like this can translate the old story into new terms."
Canon Robin Gamble, canon evangelist at Manchester Cathedral, has been tasked with encouraging churchgoers to attend the event.
"I wouldn't know a Buzzcock from a ballcock so I couldn't really comment on the music. All I can say is that they are not doing a Christian service, it is a piece of contemporary theatre and that is going to get people to think about the story in modern terms," he said.
"It is going to come from the streets, with the sounds of traffic and people bustling around and it will make people think about this story in a new way. It is going to be challenging and shocking and is going to get things rumbling - it's going to be brilliant."
A BBC spokeswoman declined to comment on the details of the line-up but promised that the event would be "exciting".