sluggish ticket sales for Mr. Bluebeard, Klaw &
Erlanger planned to replace it on Jan 11, 1904, with Ben Hur, a proven performer.
& Erlanger produced the first dramatization of
Ben Hur on Broadway in 1899 where it ran for
seen by an estimated twenty million playgoers. In 1901
it played in Chicago at the Illinois Theater.
The key spectacle of the 1899
show was the live chariot race using real horses
and chariots. The Era's
drama critic described the device as having: "four
great cradles, twenty feet (6.1 m) in length and
fourteen feet (4.3 m) wide, which are movable
back and front on railways."
The horses galloped full-pelt towards the
audience, secured by invisible steel cable
traces and running on treadmills. Electric
rubber rollers spun the chariot wheels. A vast
cyclorama backdrop revolved in the opposite
direction to create an illusion of massive
speed, and fans created clouds of dust. The
critic for The Illustrated London News described
it as "a marvel of stage-illusion" that was
"memorable beyond all else".
The Sketch's critic called it "thrilling and
realistic ... enough to make the fortune of any
and noted that "the stage, which has to bear
thirty tons' weight of chariots and horses,
besides huge crowds, has had to be expressly
strengthened and shored up."