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John Drew

Ben Hur LIVE - Coming to an arena near you

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The epic tale of Ben Hur is being revived with thundering horses, blazing lights, dramatic music and a huge cast in an arena spectacular which gets its world premiere in London on Thursday.

The mammoth-scale production, entitled "Ben Hur Live", will see gladiator duels, pirate ship attacks and real high-speed chariot races tearing around the arenas of Europe before heading worldwide.

"It's a mixture of the power of a rock concert, the speed of a musical, the magic of a great movie and the passion of a Greek tragedy," producer Franz Abraham told AFP.

I would not want to work backstage at this spectacle.

Story here.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

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Some reviews....

The Good... 4/5 stars

There are things that do need to be worked on, perhaps some tightening up the longer scenes that can drag a little and maybe a bit more fizz to the finale.

But what had the potential to turn out as little more than a big budget nativity play proved to be far more rewarding than that.

Ben Hur is good family entertainment and one for which the vision and brio of the producers, notably Franz Abraham, should be applauded.

The Bad... 2/5 stars

In the end, however, the production by Philip William McKinley lacks flair. It is a really a piece of high-flown kitsch destined to tour the world over the next few years. Its message that virtue is better than vengeance is unexceptionable, but good intentions and vast resources are no substitute for vision and theatrical imagination.

The Ugly... 1/5 stars

What really startles here is the gulf between the clearly earnest intentions and the frankly laughable execution. A lot of time, money, expertise, energy and commitment

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Dialogue is kept to a minimum and -- in an unusual set of moves presumably prompted by the fact that prod is touring internationally -- is spoken in the characters' original languages, Latin and Aramaic, with live narration provided in the local language.

In London, the narration is performed by the show's composer, Stewart Copeland (founder of The Police), who -- in an ill-judged, anachronistic move -- is often visible onstage, wandering around the action in contemporary street clothes speaking into a hand-held mic (at other times the narration is delivered as a disembodied voiceover). Copeland's score accompanies virtually every moment of the action, and feels like a stylistic homage to sweeping movie music of yore, but with a Middle Eastern flavour. . . .

When Messala falls out of his chariot car and is dragged for a half-turn around the arena, the choreography and emphasis on animal and performer safety are (as they need to be) apparent. A welcome deviation from realism comes in the sea battle scene: the galleys are huge wood skeletons on wheels, which the slaves push rather than row; and the pirates careen around in dune buggies setting off fireworks.

The need to keep the narrative straightforward means subplots about Judah's family and his interactions with Jesus are cut back significantly. This works well until the final scene: the show initially seems to end with Jesus curing Judah's mother (Mariana Krauser) and sister (Nina Adrienne Wilden) of leprosy, to much rejoicing; but a final moment spotlights Jesus on the cross -- making the curtain call feel in rather poor taste. . . .

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: making the curtain call feel in rather poor taste. . . .

Anyone else wondering just how you would get a curtain round this arena in the first place?


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