I doubt if many Christians have watched a dramatization of Christ's passion and thought, "You know what this needs? Hand-held pipe cannons to fire candy into the crowd." But now we've got them.

!Hero, the latest contemporary musical based on the Gospels, is the most rollicking Jesus rock concert of all. While Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar added guitar-heavy rock and "make love, not war" messages to the Gospels, !Hero mixes hard rock, hip-hop, multimedia, and MTV flash to appeal to even the shortest attention span. Energetic dancers break out in street moves, giant TV screens flicker with message-heavy images, and performers fire up the crowd with those candy launchers.

The rock opera, written by Christian music veterans Eddie DeGarmo and Bob Farrell, is loud, fun, and engaging. DeGarmo, cofounder of Forefront Records and president of EMI Christian music publishing, first conceived of !Hero more than 10 years ago. He wanted to evangelize younger generations raised on music videos, computer games, and hip-hop culture.

One of DeGarmo's coups was to cast marquee CCM artists such as Rebecca St. James, Michael Tait, (dcTalk) and Mark Stuart (Audio Adrenaline) in lead singing roles. (!Hero first debuted as a 33-track soundtrack from Meaux Music last September.) Another smart move was taking almost all the high-profile stars on the road in !Hero's inaugural stage run.

These artists and an extensive marketing campaign helped a 21-city tour in November sell out almost all of its dates. Enthusiastic crowds included a large percentage of youth groups and families. A spring tour is expected.

The CD and stage production are the core of DeGarmo's vision but only two components in !Hero's multimedia blitz. Novelist Stephen R. Lawhead and ...

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