Ben Hur Live to premiere in London

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Visitors to the building formerly known as the Millennium Dome know a preposterously expensive, unnecessary folly when they see one. But who is to say that in these straitened times what the world really needs is not a £5 million stage version of Ben Hur, complete with live chariot race, massed gladiatorial combat, sea battle, heaving bazaar, crucifixion and, for good measure, an orgy.

Fifteen years in the making, Ben Hur Live will receive its world premiere next September at the O2, the concert venue that has finally made a success of what was a notorious landmark in Greenwich.

Where Led Zeppelin, Prince and the Rolling Stones have gone before, a cast of more than 400 people and 100 animals will now follow, including horses, camels, donkeys, chickens, falcons eagles and a pair of vultures who have a cameo near the end circling the Valley of the Lepers.

The show is based on the 1880 novel Ben Hur – A Tale of Christ, by Lew Wallace, the bestselling American novel until Gone with the Wind. It became a hit on Broadway and in the West End a century ago and then an acclaimed silent film.

For most people, however, Ben Hur will always mean Charlton Heston and the 1959 Technicolor epic that still holds, with Titanicand The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the record for most Oscars awarded to one film – 11. It was almost four hours long and at the time the most expensive film made.

More than 8,000 extras and 300 sets were required to tell the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a 1st-century Jewish prince whose action-packed life (born noble, victim of miscarriage of justice, galley slave, champion charioteer, miracle witness) coincides with Jesus’s time on earth...

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