Actor “Chosen” for Celebration appearance

It’s not often that a star of a hit TV series visits Celebration. Yet, when Ohio-based The St. Paul Center brought Jonathon Roumie to Orlando for their annual national gala, they selected Celebration’s Corpus Christi Catholic Church as one of their venues.

Corpus Christi is arguably the largest indoor meeting location in Celebration, and Roumie, along with two prominent authors and biblical scholars Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. John Bergsma, attracted hundreds of local residents to their half-day event on October 29. (facebook.com/celebrationcatholic/videos/2650217891790112. Roumie starts at 2:34:37).

Roumie plays Jesus of Nazareth in the widely acclaimed and record-setting seven-season show The Chosen (watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen; the app is free). Having just concluded its eight-episode second season, The Chosen has racked up an impressive following. It is the highest crowd-funded movie or TV series in history, with demand so great that it has now been dubbed in 50 languages. The view counter now stands at about 200 million!

What makes The Chosen both engaging and unique is that it builds a carefully researched backstory about certain Middle Eastern people who lived two millennia ago, including familiar figures from the Bible, Jewish history and Roman chronicles, but about whom we know otherwise relatively little. This TV series brings them to life in a way that makes captivating storytelling, receiving universally rave reviews for its acting and cinematography.

A young-looking forty-something, Roumie has 63 acting credits, but The Chosen is clearly his most significant. Notes The Atlantic, “The Chosen’s Jonathan Roumie plays Jesus as someone you’d actually like to hang out with, projecting divine gravity accented with easygoing warmth. He cracks jokes; he dances at parties.” Adds Terrance Berry of Wedgewood Circle, “What The Chosen has done well is give us kind of a robust portrait of a highly relatable Jesus that moves beyond some of the holier-than-thou, untouchable, unapproachable portraits of Jesus in the past.”

What does all this have to do with Celebration, aside from residents being caught up in the excitement, just like those all over the world? Well, if there is one regrettable aspect of life in America today, it is that many people put themselves and/or others in highly defined adversarial categories, defined by rigid beliefs or ideology, especially related to religion and politics and fueled by insulting language and one-sided opinionated commentary found and encouraged in social media. With Christmas approaching, relatives often remind each other to avoid religion and politics as they seek to enjoy together the traditional day of feasting and gift exchanges.

Yet, The Chosen is carefully crafted with considered input from normally opposing religious camps: Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews and even Muslims. What would seem like a seemingly impossible tightrope to walk has instead become a story that inspires and/or entertains some but without alienating others. Interestingly, many people who eschew organized religion of any kind, including atheists, often find The Chosen a common entertaining interest.

Explains The Chosen creator and director Dallas Jenkins, “Early on, our primary audience was believers because that’s who was more attracted to a Jesus show,” he said. “But as the buzz has been building, we’re hearing all the time from atheists, agnostics, people in the industry — even the friends and family of our casting crews, many of whom are not believers themselves, who just loved the show as a regular show.”

Indeed, binge-watching reminiscent of The Sopranos or (in my home) Psych is becoming commonplace. The storyline is often filled with clever minutia that takes several viewings to catch. The series is made further engaging with an overlaying story … that of the actors, how they auditioned and were selected, and how production was designed and executed, often in trying weather and the dangers of the pandemic.

Just as the viewership itself has grown, so has groups who have fun meeting to discuss the episodes. Here in Celebration, a group of residents has spontaneously organized itself to meet informally each week to enjoy scenes of particular interest and to discuss interesting twists of the story. That group meets every Monday evening from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Corpus Christi parish office at 1050 Celebration Avenue. All are welcome, regardless of religious, political, or other affiliation.

Building on its success, Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers (www.peoplemustknow.thechosen.tv/) will move from TV screens to nationwide movie theaters (including the AMC Disney Springs) via Fathom Events. A record $1.5 million in sales were racked up within 12 hours of its announcement on livestream. According to Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events, “Originally slated to premier in 1979 theaters, we’ve already added 450+ locations and thousands of screens to satisfy demand.” Opening December 1, Nutt expects it to be the biggest hit of the season.

Hey, in contrast to past norms, perhaps religion can be discussed around the Christmas dinner table this year.

By Jim Siegel

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