A few weeks ago, I went to see Ben Hur Live.  Even though I have never been able to sit through anything but the opening sequence from Charlton Heston’s 1959 film, I not only sat through the entire Stewart Copeland- scored performance but cheered as if I was in the Colosseum circa 81 AD (equestrian section).

I was clever.  I brought two classical archaeologists with me, who enjoyed the spoken Latin (with the hint of a German accent), the fight and race scenes, and Copeland’s music.  Even though Ben Hur Live provided Italian narration and English subtitles, the archeos happily translated Latin to me throughout the two hours, a feat almost as impressive as the Latin-speaking actors.  They loved the fight sequences [though critiqued the rudis as being too long for 1st century AD] and the stunt riding in the final chariot race.

What captivated me was the overall production design.  More arena than stage, the design was simple — a faux, musical theatre-y Dogme 95 where minimalist values defined the sparse set.  The production designer created skeleton shapes for towers and fountains that were then reconfigured to become stage, dais, ship, prison and rock.  I was obsessed with watching each scene’s transformation.  For me, Ben Hur became atmosphere and less story.

Yes, Ben Hur Live is slightly hokey but so is any musical theatre. Unfortunately, the crowd was thin and this show definitely needed more of an audience.  Would I recommend it? Sure.