With aerial acts, live music, modern dance and martial arts, “The Thorn” literally takes the Easter story known as the Passion Play to new levels.
“This isn’t your ordinary beards, bathrobes and crummy singing Easter story,” said show director Andrew Harmon. “Audiences are surprised at what they get. People leave saying, ‘Okay, this is wildly different. Something I didn’t expect.’ ”
John Bolin created the show in 1996. After seeing a teenage girl crying and discovering self-inflicted cut wounds on her arms, he came up with the idea for a modern retelling of the story of Jesus that engaged young audiences. “The Thorn” started out as a low-budget, church-based show made up of volunteers.
“It was basically an illustrative sermon,” Bolin said. “I would talk and interact with members of the church.”
A trip to Las Vegas in 1999 changed all that. After a viewing of Cirque du Soleil’s “O” left him in tears, Bolin decided he needed to add powerful Cirque-style elements to “The Thorn.”
“The full artistic beauty had me in tears,” he said. “I decided the story of Jesus could be more impacting if we added some of these elements.”
With dancers from New York’s Joffrey Ballet School and Olympic-level athletes, “The Thorn” is now a two-hour, Cirque-style presentation. It features 32 professional performers and is filled with silk work, fire spinning, break dancing, rapid-fire flips, martial arts kicks, ballet, a live flogging and more.
“You bring us your most skeptical teenager and they’re going to love this,” Bolin said.
Even though “The Thorn” is Christian-themed, both Bolin and Harmon consider it nondenominational.
“It’s wrapped in the Christian world from top to bottom,” Harmon said. “But this isn’t the show you’re thinking it’s going to be. It’s fresh, new and exciting. It’s on the front edge of what people want to go to in theater.”
During the pandemic, the show was shut down. Thinking it might be the end for “The Thorn,” Bolin approached Fathom Events in 2021 about making a special topic live-action film. The result was a movie version of the show, which was recently released in theaters.
The show has outgrown churches and the tour has expanded to performing arts centers and smaller arenas.
“The community has really shown up,” Bolin said.
A “don’t miss” moment in the show for both Bolin and Harmon is the “heaven” sequence. It explores the creation of Earth. Adam, Eve and angels fly around “heaven” on aerial silks and aerial straps.
“It’s just beautiful,” Bolin said. “It’s in the first 10 minutes of the show though, so don’t be late.”
“The Thorn” takes place at 7 p.m. April 4-5 at the Yuengling Center, 12499 USF Bull Run Drive, Tampa. Tickets start at $26.25 and can be purchased online at yuenglingcenter.com or ticketmaster.com, or by calling 800-745-3000.