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 detailed
how it was achieved by "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 play" 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.