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Never mind 3D movies – the latest $15 million Ben-Hur ‘remake’ will be Live in the Amphitheatre! (October 22, 23, ANZ Stadium, Sydney) narrated by Russell Crowe, with a cast of 200, large scale music, big screens and a full 24 horse chariot race. And in the audience will be a Sydney man called … Ben Hur.

Chariot race

The young Ben Hur from Bossley Park will witness the biggest theatrical event ever seen in Australia. The dialogue of the actors tells the compelling story of one man's fight for freedom. A narrator provides historical context and character background, while a powerful musical soundtrack and a huge light show add the oomph to the $15 million production – the same budget as the 1959 film starring Charlton Heston.

"Ben Hur fever"

Ben Hur Yosana, the Bossley Park resident was born in Iran in 1960 – a time when the world was in the grip of Ben Hur fever following the 1959 release of the now-iconic film. Inspired by the film, as well as the fact her doctor’s name was Ben, Mrs Yohana gave her son the name of a legend. She had already called her first son Julius Caesar …

“In my early years, I wanted to change my name because I didn’t like the fuss and reaction when people found out,” said Ben. “But around the age of 16, it dawned on me that it was something special and actually something to be proud of.

Of Assyrian descent, Ben and his older brother Julius Caesar (another familiar name) speak a modern derivation of the ancient Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus Christ and the apostles to preach the Gospel, to record the Scriptures (as in Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of Christ). Like his mother, Ben is a huge fan of the Ben-Hur movie. He has seen it 15 times and his family watch it together every Easter when it is traditionally broadcast on television.

Ten years after his Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony triumph, renowned Australian horse trainer Tony Jablonski returns to ANZ Stadium for another spectacular with Ben-Hur. Jablonski is selecting and training 35 Australian horses, many for the famous chariot race. Jablonski is currently consultant and Horse Master at Australia’s only world-class equine facility and live dinner show – The Australian Outback Spectacular on the Gold Coast.

"It’s bigger than Ben-Hur"

It’s bigger than Ben-Hur … The cast of 200 is headed by the hero Ben Hur and his childhood friend turned foe, Messala. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one of the climatic scenes. ANZ Stadium is transformed into a Roman Amphitheatre with 1250 tonnes of crushed rock and sand forming the staging base. The total performance area is 15,000 square metres - almost two football fields. Each end of ANZ Stadium is occupied by massive stages representing the Roman Senate and the Town of Judea.

Among the huge sets is a Roman Galley ship powered by 100 oarsmen; 24 horses sourced and trained in Australia race in teams of four in the full-scale chariot race. A stage crew of more than 200 works throughout the 10 action-packed scenes. Hundreds of theatre lights and a massive sound and video installation fuel the drama.

There are 400 costumes and hundreds of spears, swords and shields. The back stage city requires:
•30 fitted dressing rooms
•12 administration offices
•12 phone lines
•600 meals per day
•70 hotel rooms for visiting actors and production personnel

Food provision for horses is a massive 100 kilograms of oats, 250 kilograms of hay, 2,560 litres of filtered water per day for the stables.

The project was created for Stadefrance Live Events by French actor/writer/director Robert Hossein, who has worked on stage as well as screen, and directed classics such as Les Misérables and Jules César. Known for his giant shows and historic stagings, he notched up a Guinness Book of Records entry in 1983-84 when 700,000 people saw his show A Man Named Jesus. Ben-Hur played to 300,000 people in its Paris premiere season.

The son of celebrated conductor Andre Hossein, Robert Hossein co-wrote the script with former journalist Alain Decaux, and brought in Mario Luschari as chariot racing stunt co-ordinator. Of his Ben-Hur preparation, Luraschi said: “everything is measured to the millimetre. It is a true choreography”. In honour of his late father, Robert Hossein transformed Hossein’s 1951 symphony on Khayyam poems into the moving and powerful score for this event.

"a master of horse training"

Luraschi has been a master of horse training for more than three decades. From his property in north-east Paris, Luraschi has dedicated his life to producing stunt horses for movie production and equestrian entertainment.

A graduate of the prestigious Boule School, scenery designer Christian Vallet is credited with styling Ben Hur with the utmost respect and precision. Vallet, who has worked on a number of films including Ronin staring Robert De Niro, accepted the challenge of recreating Ancient Rome with considerable pleasure.

Published August 19, 2010

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Russell Crowe



Ben-Hur (1959 – 212 mins, 70mm)
Scr: Karl Tunberg (novel by Lew Wallace); Dir: William Wyler
Stars: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet
Won 11 Academy Awards + 1 nomination (Best Adapted Screenplay)
Biggest budget film at the time: US$15 million

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925 – silent B&W, 143 mins)
Scr: June Mathis (novel by Lew Wallace); Dir: Fred Niblo
Stars Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman, May McAvoy (Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks, Samuel Goldwyn and other screen luminaries play uncredited extras, Carol Lombard and Myrna Loy play slave girls
Producers include Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg

Ben Hur (1907 – silent B&W x 15 mins)
Scr: Gene Gauntier (novel by Lew Wallace); Dir: Sydney Olcott, Frank Oakes Rose, H. Temple.
Stars Herman Rottger, William S. Hart

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