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Interview:
Musical brings passion to The Passion
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Seventeen years ago, Kelly Nieto found God. And Christianity. And a purpose in life that led to her musical, "The Cross and the Light."

The former Miss Michigan, Miss America runner-up and professional entertainer was at University of Michigan Hospital after learning that her mother was terminally ill. "I found myself on all fours in a bathroom, praying to God -- 'I don't know who you are. I don't know what you are. I'll do anything if you save my mother's life,'" the Farmington native and resident recalls. "Long story short, mom is still here and doing fine. She is a miracle" -- one that, Nieto notes, just ran a triathalon in Florida.

Her mother's recovery led Nieto back to the church to "explore my Christianity." She became a born-again Baptist and later entered the Catholic church, and in 2000, during a poorly attended Good Friday service, was inspired to create "The Cross and the Light," an evangelistic musical retelling of the crucifixion and resurrection story that's played to some 70,000 people since it debuted in 2002 as "The Living Stations of the Cross" at Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington. The piece -- which has also played in Illinois and Australia -- has been tweaked and expanded over the years, and this week it begins a month-long run in five Detroit area churches with a new, multi-media concert-style production that Nieto says is lighter, less expensive and will hopefully make it easier to reach more people.

"Before we had an epic production that cost about $400,000," Nieto explains. "It's hard to sustain that and sell tickets at that level, so we decided to change our business model so we could go back inside the churches with a concert experience. It's three percent of the cost and I believe we'll have 10 times to reach because it's much easier to take it on tour."

The new version of the show, which Nieto likes to call "a baptism of the imagination," features seven singers -- including national recording artist and Detroit native Tim Bowman, Jr., whose father is a noted area jazz musician, and Kenny Watson, who was nominated for a Wilde Award for his performance as Jesus -- singing "The Cross and the Light's" 24 pop/gospel songs. But even if the physical production is scaled down, Nieto promises it will still be an "immersive" experience thanks to environmental projections, a technology used in settings such as the Super Bowl that allows for scene changes without expensive props.

"It's the best of both worlds -- live singers but digital imagery that's going to be 150 feet wide and 30 feet high," Nieto gushes. "I can't wait to see the audience when the Holy Spirit descends on the Apostles and the walls of the church erupt into flames. Kids are going to love it. It's the wow factor we need for people in our generation to connect with our story."

And that connection has been what Nieto and her company -- who will also be feeding audiences during the Last Supper scene -- have been pursuing since day one with "The Cross and the Light."

"It's becoming a more immersive experience, a deeply moving musical journey that hits all of the senses," Nieto says. "It's something that's really necessary. Have you ever seen a kid standing in front of a church wall looking at a statue for the Stations of the Cross? They don't get it. They can't connect with a plaque on the all.

"We're literally taking it off the wall and putting it in front of them. It's very contemporary. The singers will be wearing jeans, not (early A.D.) period clothing. When Jesus sings 'Well They Even Care?' you'll see flashes of people going through their daily lives. We're trying to bring this into the 21st century so that young people can connect with the story."

"The Cross and the Light" has certainly been recognized for doing that in all its permutations during the past 15 years. In addition to the two Wilde Award nominations in 2014 the show has been praised by clergy with the Archdiocese of Detroit, whose theologians have also helped Nieto with her script. Father Charles Fox, former secretary to the Archbishop and currently teaching at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary, says the show "is exactly what Pope John Paul II mean when he used the term 'the new evangelization. This is a bridge between where people are and where God wants them to be."

Once the new concert production of "The Cross and the Light" is launched, Nieto hopes to roll it out nationally. The shows will be filmed and an album with the current cast will be recorded (another one recorded before the 2014 run at Detroit's Music Hall has been available in limited fashion), and Nieto plans to use both as tools to shed more light on "The Cross and the Light."

"Most people leave the performance very changed," she says. "They come in one way, not knowing what to expect, and leave with their eyes wide open. This is something that can really deepen their faith."

“The Cross and the Light” will be staged at these churches in coming weeks:

• April 16-18 St. Hugo of the Hills, Bloomfield Hills

• April 23-25 St. Patrick of White Lake, White Lake Twp.

• April 30-May 2 Our Lady Star of the Sea, Grosse Pointe Woods

• May 7-9 St. Frances Cabrini, Allen Park

• May 14-16 St. Isidore, Macomb Township

• Tickets are $10-$35, group rates available.

• Call 734-788-7073 or visit www.CrossAndLight.com.

Web Site: www.CrossAndLight.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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