(PRINCETON, NJ) — There’s just one weekend left to see the World Premiere of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express at McCarter Theatre Center and I can’t rave enough about this wonderful production. Emily Mann directs the classic story adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy For You) who manages to craft a masterful whodunnit tale while finding the humor in the work and the story’s zany characters. But, as always, the train is the star.
The play begins in Istanbul. The famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is there with the intention of taking a well needed vacation after solving a particularly difficult case. His plans are forced to change when he receives a telegram advising him to return to London immediately. Poirot appears to be out of luck when he learns that the Simplon-Orient Exrpess is entirely full - a situation which is very unusual for the time of year - but his friend Monsieur Bouc lets him take him compartment on the train.
His ride back to England soon becomes an unexpected business trip when a man is murdered in the compartment next to his. Bouc pleads with Poirot to find the murderer out of fear the news will destroy his company.
“I have to be back in London in three days,” says Poirot.
“Then solve it in two!” replies Bouc.
Poirot decides to help out his friend and investigates the crime scene, discovering a note that says “remember Daisy Armstrong” — the name of a young girl who was kidnapped and later murdered a few years earlier. As Poirot begins interviewing each of the passengers, it’s clear he is beginning to become intrigued by the case. Guys like Poirot don’t take vacations - at least not in Agatha Christie novels. Unfortunately, every passenger seems to have something they appear to be hiding and motive for the crime is unclear.
“There are too many clues and I am unhappy,” says Poirot.
The ride gets thrown for a further loop when a snowstorm stops the train in the middle of no man’s land, a second passenger is shot, and everyone begins fearing for the lives in more ways than one.
Will Poirot solve the case? If you have to ask, you must not have been a fan of Agatha Christie! As a kid I was a huge fan of the legendary mystery writer. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any of her books or have seen the film versions, but this production makes me interested in re-reading the classics. Hopefully it will inspire others to do so as well or to read her books for the first time.
The cast features British stage and screen actor Allan Corduner as Detective Hercule Poirot, Veanne Cox (An American in Paris) as Princess Dragomiroff, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Michel, Julie Halston (You Can’t Take it With You) as Mrs. Hubbard, Susannah Hoffman as Mary Debenham, Alexandra Silber (Fiddler on the Roof) as Countess Andrenyi, Juha Sorola as MacQueen, Samantha Steinmetz (Bedlam’s Sense & Sensibility) as Greta Ohlsson, Max von Essen (An American in Paris) as Ratchett/Col. Arburthnot, and Evan Zes (Incident at Vichy) as Bouc.
While the entire cast is terrific, two performances truly stood out for me: Corduner is brilliant as Poirot, recreating the "French sounding" accent he used in the hilarious independent film, The Search for John Gissing. And Evan Zes steals every scene he is in as Monsieur Bouc!
Emily Mann’s direction keeps the story moving very quickly - just the right pace for both comedy and the mystery itself. William Ivey Long provides the cast with colorful costumes that add to the glamour and the absurdity of the ride. It's a train line often filled with some of the most interesting people in the world and this week is no exception.
But as mentioned in the opening paragraph, the train is the star — or the imaginative set design of the train to be more exact. Tony-Award winning designer Beowulf Boritt has created a stunning set that features a train with several compartments that roll left and right to show different areas of the train. The set is absolutely gorgeous and the various train compartments are used to great effect.
Murder on the Orient Express is set to close on Sunday, April 2. See it if you can!
All Photos by T. Charles Erickson
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.