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Ben-Hur: An Attractive and Original Musical

Kingos may be looking for performances or movies to watch with their friends after the long summer break. There are lots of options around Seoul, but if someone is looking for a combination of both music and a good storyline, a musical named Ben-Hur may be one of the best options out there. Thanks to positive reviews during its first run in 2017, Ben-Hur is now once again running to touch audiences’ hearts.

Ben-Hur: What Is It About?

Background

Ben-Hur is based on Lewis Wallace’s novel of the same title. It is the second original musical produced by the Chungmu Art Center. Wang Yong-beom and Lee Sung-joon once again participated as director and musical director after their first collaboration for the musical Frankenstein. The musical received critical acclaim and won the grand prize at the 2nd Korean Musical Awards and the best ensemble at the 6th Yegreen Musical Awards. This season’s Ben-Hur, which will run until October 13th, once again has a star-studded cast, with Kai, Han Ji-sang, and Min Woo-hyuk acting as Ben-Hur, Park Min-sung and Moon Jong-won as Messala, and Kim Ji-woo as Esther.

Synopsis

The story takes place in Judea during the time of Christ, which is also when the Roman Empire ruled Judea. The protagonist, Ben-Hur is a wealthy merchant and is the head of a respected family in Judea. The antagonist of the story, Messala, is an old friend of Ben-Hur and is the new tribune. A few days later, as a plan to show their military strength to their colony, the Romans parade through Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Ben-Hur’s sister leans out of a balcony and dislodges some roof tiles, and the tiles kill the new governor. Messala, who is filled with ambition to be seen by Caesar, makes Ben-Hur responsible for the death of the governor and arrests the whole family for treason. Ben-Hur is then enslaved and is forced to row warships for the Roman Empire. Three years later, the warship gets wrecked due to a fight against pirates. Centurion Quintas is on the verge of death, but Ben-Hur saves Quintas. Quintas, touched by Ben-Hur, adopts him as his son, and Ben-Hur becomes a freeman of the Roman Empire. Later, BenHur meets Pilatus, who is the consul of the Judea district, and asks for the restoration of the honor of his family. Pilatus, however, thinks Ben-Hur’s request to be unreasonable and plans to kill both Ben-Hur and Quintas. As a result of Pilatus’s scheme, Quintas dies. Meanwhile, in case his plan fails, Pilatus tells the killers to tell either Ben-Hur or Quintas that it was Messala who came up with the plan. Ben-Hur, filled with rage, determines to go back to Judea and work for the Judea independence and get revenge on Messala. The story of BenHur’s vengeance is the basis for the story.

Attractive Features of the Story and Musical

Suffering, Vengeance, and Forgiveness

As mentioned, the story takes place in Judea during the time of Christ. Thus, inevitably, many parts of the story and even the thesis of the story is affected by Christianity. Despite this fact, the story is attractive to non-Christians as well, since the story mostly concentrates on Ben-Hur’s hardship and vengeance on Messala. Stories based on vengeance may seem almost like a cliché to many. BenHur, on the other hand, derives another main theme of the story: forgiveness. Even until the very end, the musical puts substantial weight on the escalation of will to revenge. When the emotion of revenge reaches its peak, the musical turns this around and makes the “forgiveness” theme stand out. Such a plot is what distinguishes the musical’s story from other stories that focus on vengeance. Instead of watching the protagonist successfully getting revenge on the antagonist and feeling catharsis, Ben-Hur presents another important value of humanity and an even more fundamental solution to the feeling of vengeance.

Nobody’s All That Bad

The story presents Messala as the antagonist at the individual level. The story, however, provides a persuasive reason why Messala “betrayed” his friend Ben-Hur. This setting allows the audience to empathize with Messala as well; the empathy towards both characters helps the audience to avoid from falling into a dichotomous way of thinking, making the conflict between the two characters even more intense. If Messala is the antagonist at the micro-level, it can be said that the Roman Empire as a whole is the apparent antagonist at the macro-level. The ruling of the Roman Empire puts pressure on both Ben-Hur and the people of Judea. The musical, however, doesn’t present the Roman Empire as the root cause of people’s suffering but presents it merely as a background. In the musical, the people of Judea hesitate to fight for their country and feel despair. Such hesitation and feeling of despair are what the musical presents as the root causes of the collapse of Judea. Presenting the Roman Empire merely as a source of pressure, not as the fundamental cause of Judea’s collapse, makes the audience delve into what the story is truly trying to say.

Pleasing to the Eyes and Ears

One feature of Ben-Hur that stands out is its visual effects. The musical actively uses holograms to deliver the musical’s background and storyline. The use of visual effects sticks out during the scene when the warship that Ben-Hur was on gets attacked by pirates: the musical uses animation effects to show that the ship is moving and to deliver a scene in which Ben-Hur saves Quintas. Besides the visual aspect, the music is another appealing element of the musical. All music effectively conveys the story with a good melody and singing. The music and visual effects allow the viewers to fully immerse themselves in the musical.

Ben-Hur is an original musical made in Korea that can break the preconception that Korean musicals are inferior to their American and European counterparts. Its solid story-line, speedy development, catchy music, and the musical’s visual treats make the two-and-a-half-hour investment worthwhile. Also, although limited to seats on the 2nd and 3rd floor, university students are offered a 40% discount, which may make this attractive musical even more appealing for Kingos to watch.

안유진  ge.jyn14@gmail.com

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