There are so many reasons why Everyman’s production of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” has had the biggest ticket presale in the theater’s 29-year history – with nearly 90 percent of the tickets sold before opening. It is so much in demand that the theater has now extended its run to January 11, 2020 – so get your tickets fast!
This beloved story by one of the world’s most celebrated mystery writers has been adapted by award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig (“Moon over Buffalo,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Crazy for You”), also in attendance opening night. It speaks volumes when you are handpicked by Agatha Christie’s estate to write the first stage adaptation of this famous murder mystery. You might have read the book or seen a film version, notably the 1974 film with a star-studded cast lead by Albert Finney as the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Or perhaps you may have watched the British series on PBS starring David Suchet as the famous detective. This play is a wonderful addition that will delight audiences.
“…continues to be one of the premiere theatre companies in the area, dare I say, in the country.”
The setting is the 1930s when a diverse group of people are brought together on the luxurious Simpleton-Orient Express train. Though fully booked, Poirot’s ebullient friend, Monsieur Bouc (Jefferson A. Russell), runs the train company and manages to find Poirot a berth when he is urgently called back to London for a case.
The cast of characters include the elderly Princess Dragomiroff (Helen Hedman) of Russian royalty, accompanied by her assistant, Greta Ohlsonn (Beth Hylton), an enthusiastic Swedish missionary-want-be. Mrs. Helen Hubbard (Deborah Hazlett) is a wealthy and flirty American traveling without her latest husband. Harried Hector McQueen (Tony Nam) is the secretary to a thuggish and vulgar American businessman, Samuel Ratchett (Danny Gavigan). A mysterious young lady, Mary Debenham (Hannah Kelly) pretends not to know what appears to be her lover, Colonel Arbuthnot (also Danny Gavigan). And finally there is Michel, the conductor (M. Scott McLean, also in a dual role as a waiter in Instabul).
A hint to the mystery is foreshadowed as the play opens with disembodied voices recounting the abduction of Daisy Armstrong, the child of the wealthy American Colonel Armstrong and his wife, which ultimately ended with her death. The passengers soon find themselves in the midst of a murder when Ratchett is found stabbed in his own bed and with the cabin locked. The train becomes trapped in a snowstorm and it falls to Poirot to solve the murder.
Though many will already know the ending, it is the ride that makes the production so much fun and Ken Ludwig injects a good mix of humor into the proceedings. Though there were some issues with accents and the pace was a little off in some instances, I am more that certain that this wonderful cast was up to speed after only a few more performances.
The always-fabulous Bruce Randolph Nelson plays Poirot and is very careful not to fall into a caricature. His character is telling the story and occasionally breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience. He is as prim and precise as we expect, but there is humor, humanity and even a little romance in his soul.
There has been some updating by making Countess Andrenyi (Lilian Oben) a “modern” woman with a medical degree. She is also not traveling with her husband and this eliminates some characters from the original story. Poirot reveals his respect and a romantic interest in the Countess as they work together to solve the case.
The other star of this play is the rich and detailed design created by the production team. The art deco puzzle box set with many moving parts by Daniel Ettinger, with brilliant projections by Rasean Davonte Johnson and lighting design by Harold F. Burgess II, integrate perfectly to dazzling effect. Costume Designer David Burdick captures the beautiful and stylish designs of the 1930s while sound designer Pornchanok Kanchanabanca added some movie-like sound and music cues during some of the most dramatic moments. Finally there is the expert direction of artistic director, Vincent Lancisi of what continues to be one of the premiere theatre companies in the area, dare I say, in the country. The supremely talented resident company, complemented with the addition of other marvelous supporting actors, always delivers.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 10 minutes, including intermission.
“Murder on the Orient Express” is now extended through January 11, 2020 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, call 410-752-2208 or go online.