Bigger Than ‘Ben Hur’

Stadefrance Live Events’ production of “Ben Hur – The Stadium Spectacular” in Sydney is being hailed as the largest theatrical events held downunder.

The Oct. 22-23 shows had a cast of 225 including gladiators, slaves and lepers, with most of the dialogue pre-taped. The 10 scenes were crafted by French director Robert Hossein and narrated by actor Russell Crowe of “Gladiator” fame.

The ANZ Stadium was transformed into a Roman amphitheatre with 1,250 tonnes of crushed rock and sand forming the staging base. Each end of ANZ Stadium was occupied by massive stages representing the Roman Senate and the town of Judea. The production came from France with a stage crew of 200.

Among the huge sets was a life-sized Roman Galley ship powered by 100 oarsmen, and a massive gladiatorial wrestling competition to which the audience contributed with boos and cheers.

As to be expected, the biggest thrill was the chariot race, with 24 horses sourced and trained in Australia racing in teams of four, whipping around the corners and wheels flying off on cue as various contestants met their demise.

While the backstage area was turned into a mini-city with 30 dressing rooms, 12 administration offices and the capacity to turn out 600 meals a day, the horses required 100 kilograms of oats, 250 kilograms of hay, and 2,560 litres of filtered water per day for the stables.

The two shows also served as a fund-raiser to set up a high school for girls in Sudan. To be called Mary MacKillop College in honour of Australia’s first Catholic saint, it will open in April in Aweil in south Sudan. The ANZ Stadium donated $100,000.

Stadefrance’s Ben Hur production in 2006 in Paris played to more than 300,000 fans.

The Sydney event is not to be confused with Art Entertainment’s “Ben Hur” production that was to tour Europe last year. Poor ticket sales and “financial difficulties” forced the company into receivership, leaving ticketholders out of luck.