Page last updated at 07:39 GMT, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 08:39 UK

Ben Hur show gallops into London

By Emma Saunders
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Ben Hur Live
The show has taken 15 years to come to fruition

More than 1,000 costumes, 70 acrobats and dancers, 32 horses, 100 doves, three falcons, two eagles, two vultures and two donkeys.

Welcome to Ben Hur Live.

The stage extravaganza - based on the 1880 novel by Lewis Wallace which in turn engendered the Charlton Heston screen epic - arrives in London on 17 September with the world premiere at the O2.

The performances - lasting just under two hours - will re-enact the famous vengeance and redemption tale set at the time of Christ.

Many are more familiar with the 1959 adaptation starring Heston as Judah Ben Hur, which won 11 Oscars.

The O2 show, starring little-known actor Sebastian Thrun in the lead role, will be the first time a high-speed indoor chariot race has been staged.

Stewart Copeland
It's not a matter of discipline, it's a matter of obsession.
Stewart Copeland

The thoroughbred horses have undergone 12 months of intensive training with a team of trainers and charioteers.

Five chariots with four horses each will be seen racing at 55km an hour across a dirt floor.

It has taken creator Franz Abraham 15 years to bring his dream from concept to reality but he is hoping the show will last a lot longer.

"We count on this show running 50 years," he says.

Abraham is not afraid to set expectations high for the extravaganza.

"The show will have the speed of a musical, the depth of great theatre, the power of a rock concert and the visual opulence of a Hollywood blockbuster."

For Philip McKinley, who has directed numerous musicals and shows including The Wizard of Oz, Hair and Peter Pan, Ben Hur Live is the "largest thing I've ever done".

"I was crazy enough to take it on, probably because it scares the hell out of me," he says.

Chariot
A high-speed chariot race will be the show's centrepiece

He describes the show as an "operatic sports event", which he wants to direct "as a live movie".

The characters - there are seven leading actors - will speak in Latin and Aramaic.

"Part of that was inspired by Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ," says McKinley.

But Help is at hand for those in the audience who do not understand either language.

Stewart Copeland, drummer with the Police, will narrate the London shows - and he has also composed the score.

Copeland played with the band when they reunited to go on tour last year.

'Lucky stars'

But he has also carved out a career composing, with three ballets, three operas, 60 film scores and several pieces of orchestral work under his belt.

Ship scene - Ben Hur Live
One of the huge galleys during the set build

The score has an ethnic, Middle Eastern feel, drawn from Copeland's experience growing up in Syria.

"The first music I heard was Arabic when I was two months-old - and then I discovered Jimi Hendrix," says Copeland.

It took him 11 weeks to write the Ben Hur score.

"It's not a matter of discipline, it's a matter of obsession. I wake up in the morning, I can't breathe until I'm there and I'm already at it before I've finished my coffee," he says.

"When you're fortunate enough to get a creative job, you thank your lucky stars and get on with it."



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SEE ALSO
Police star hints of more to come
11 May 09 |  Entertainment
Ben-Hur stage show set for London
06 Nov 08 |  Entertainment
Ben-Hur star Charlton Heston dies
06 Apr 08 |  Entertainment

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