Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ben Hur Live spectacle comes to US in Fall 2010

The stylized naval battle in Ben Hur Live.  Image courtesy of
Art Concerts.
Somehow, I missed all the hoopla about Ben Hur Live when it made its debut in September 2009 in London's 02 arena.  So I was surprised by the announcement today that Russell Crowe has agreed to narrate the spectacle when it is presented in Sydney, Australia.  I immediately Googled the show and retrieved quite a few, unfortunately acerbic, critical reviews of the production when it was presented in London.  I must admit, though, that the images of the chariot race, naval battle and formations of staunch legionaries looked intriguing.

It took quite a few searches before I finally found a reference to the show's tour calendar indicating there would be presentations in the U.S. starting in the fall of 2010.  This sprawling spectacle includes a cast of over 400 along with over 40 horses.  Some critics complained that it didn't leave enough to the imagination or was just too "over the top", but the Times reviewer, Benedict Nightingale, was a little more charitable:

Here’s a show in the Victorian tradition of plays that brought onstage shipwrecks, volcanos, earthquakes, forest fires, collapsing bridges, floods and, in The Ruling Passion at Drury Lane, a balloon that rose from the Crystal Palace and dropped into the Channel, where its occupants, including the heroine and an escaped lunatic, were rescued by lifeboat.

The visual successes include a Jerusalem so crammed with people, from jugglers to beggars, grandees to belly dancers, that it might have been painted by Brueghel, and a battle in which skeletal ships packed with vermicular oarsmen are somewhat anachronistically attacked by what look like Somali pirates on beach-buggies. The Roman legionnaires, too, are genuinely scary as they menacingly parade in their phalanxes, even more so than gladiators who use swords, rope, and what look like long tuning forks in a well-orchestrated display of violence.

This isn’t a show that will displace the film in the memory, or make the DVD redundant, but it’s not silly, not naff, not a waste of your time and the O2’s space. I rather enjoyed it. - Benedict Nightingale, Times Online

I looked through the Times article's slideshow of images and I think I would rather enjoy it myself!  I must admit I'm not too keen on the dialog being delivered in Latin and Aramaic but I'm rather used to watching foreign films and getting the gist of what is going on even without reading the subtitles and, of course, I've watched the film version of Ben Hur so many times I know the story by heart anyway.

When I was in Rome last year, my friend and I went to the cinema one night and watched Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino dubbed in Italian with no subtitles.  Later after I returned home I ordered it from Netflix and watched the original English version and wasn't mistaken about any assumptions I had made watching it in Rome.  So I think I can enjoy Ben Hur Live, even if I can't understand the dialog.  I'm sure the production company will get someone suitable here to narrate.  It would be fantastic if Russell Crowe would do the narration for the US tour but that's probably more than I can hope for.

Like most topics, I was able to find quite a few short clips of the show when it appeared in London on You Tube.  Here is one of the better ones:

This interview with Steve Copeland about his work on the show's music has a lot of nice still images as well:

I didn't find a list of US venues although from the looks of the show it obviously requires quite a large arena space. I do hope at least one west coast performance is planned. I would happily fly to San Francisco or L.A. to see it.  After all, a person needs to see at least one Roman spectacle in their lifetime, right?

Ben-Hur (Four-Disc Collector's Edition)   Ben Hur (Animated)   Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ    
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