By JAMES PRICHARD, Associated Press Writer
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - It‘s an epic telling of the life of Jesus — an ambitious production featuring an all-star cast. But it‘s not a movie or miniseries.
"Inspired By ... The Bible Experience: New Testament" features a large, all-black cast including some of Hollywood‘s biggest names. And in the world of audio books, it‘s a smash.
The 21-hour production features the voice talents of more than 250 singers, clergy and actors, including Denzel Washington , Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett and Alfre Woodard . Blair Underwood portrays Jesus, and Samuel L. Jackson Samuel L. Jackson, who played a Scripture-spouting hit man in "Pulp Fiction," is the voice of God.
Zondervan started shipping "Bible Experience" in late September and has sold more than 70,000 units, Caminiti said. By comparison, Zondervan, which publishes the five best-selling audio Bibles in the United States, sells about 60,000 units each year of its longtime top-seller, the "New International Version Audio Bible."
The project is the brainchild of Kyle Bowser, a former television executive with a law degree. At Fox Broadcasting Co. in the early 1990s, he helped develop such TV shows as the sketch comedy series "In Living Color," a show with a mostly black cast that also propelled white comedian Jim Carrey to stardom, and the Charles S. Dutton Charles S. Dutton situation comedy "Roc." Dutton is one of the performers on the new audio Bible.
"The production value was lacking and I thought, gee whiz, if we could do this and really capture people‘s attention, how much more impactful and engaging it might be," he said.
About a year and a half ago, an agent representing the four partners approached Zondervan with their idea. The publisher agreed to provide financing as well as text from its Today‘s New International Version Bible, a conversational translation aimed at young readers.
Underwood said in a written statement that he was proud to have worked on the project, which he said was a "unique and timely" version of the Bible.
"I was particularly interested in developing a product that might resonate with the African-American community," Bowser said. "I‘ve long felt that Christian product tends to ignore our perspective."
"Bible Experience" features a complete, original musical score with selections performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Its state-of-the-art sound effects take listeners into the story.
Virtually every actor whom Reed approached immediately agreed to participate. All performers received union scale pay with a few of the biggest names promised "nominal" percentages of profits, Bowser said.
"No one did this for the money," he said.
There was some debate among the producers whether to restrict the cast to Christians. They finally decided not to, since the Bible is filled with both Christians and non-Christians, Bowser said.
"That way we availed ourselves to the best talent in the community," he said. "But I can tell you, whether they were believers or nonbelievers, everyone that participated came with a high degree of reverence and total respect for the significance of this project."
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