For just one week, the stage at Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts will be transformed into the hills and dusty roads near Jerusalem, as “The Cross and the Light” is performed live each day from Palm Sunday through Easter.
The acclaimed musical dramatization of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection is the creation of executive producer Kelly Nieto. The first half of the program, titled “The Living Stations of the Cross”, was produced first at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Farmington, Michigan—moving in 2011 to Detroit’s Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where it attracted more than 22,000 audience members. This year for its debut at the Music Hall, Nieto has added a second act which covers the period from the Resurrection through Pentecost.
I wrote about “The Living Stations” when I first viewed the production two years ago; and I was even more enthused this year, watching the new cast and the new second act during the media night presentation this week. As originally presented, the production ended with the Crucifixion of Christ; and while you understood the victorious ending that was to come, nonetheless the crowd left the Cathedral subdued, reflective, even saddened. This time, watching Act 2 with its joyous presentation of the period following Christ’s Resurrection, the audience was enlivened and there was a happy buzz as people rose to their feet to applaud the performers.
The talented cast of the epic production includes 45 professional and amateur actors including Kenny Watson as Jesus, and Candice Jackson portraying Mary Magdalen. Watson has toured nationally and internationally, and has vocal versatility that spans across the genres of R&B, jazz, alternative, classical and hip-hop. He is engaged in social activism, serving as co-music director and headline performer for AfroFlow, a cancer awareness initiative of the American Cancer Society. Candice Jackson is an accomplished actress and singer, worship arts director at Faith Church in Lansing, and has performed in opening acts for well-known individuals including Mandisa from “American Idol”, Kurt Cameron from “Growing Pains” and Governor Mike Huckabee.
Other cast members include Julie Craigo (Michigan Opera Theatre) as the Blessed Mother, Brian Leduc (Michigan Opera Theatre) as Peter, and Matthew Peckham (Ann Anbor Ballet Theatre, Spotlight Players, Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, Comic Opera Guild, U-Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society, U-M Opera Studio) in the role of St. Thomas the Apostle.
Kelly Nieto, executive producer whose vision brought the story to the stage, is a former Miss Michigan, Miss America Runner Up, and Miss America Talent Winner. She is a dynamic entertainer, fiddle player, and musical comedienne, and has performed her one-woman show in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, on cruise ships, and for corporations worldwide, as well as performing the opening act for Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, and Charlie Daniels. She has emceed the Miss Michigan Pageant for 23 years and recently emceed the Miss America Pageant Prelim nights in Las Vegas. Kelly is married and has five children, ages 6 to 18.