Actor Michael Sullivan.
Cumberland Theatre, Western Maryland’s only regional professional theatre, is currently presenting “Murder on the Orient Express,” adapted by Ken Ludwig from the novel by Agatha Christie. It is part of their 35th Anniversary season.
Synopsis: Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year, but by the morning it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed eight times, his door locked from the inside. Isolated and with a killer in their midst, the passengers rely on detective Hercule Poirot to identify the murderer—in case he or she decides to strike again. This clever adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic boasts all the glamour, intrigue and suspense of Dame Agatha’s celebrated novel, with a healthy dose of humor to quicken the pace.
Baltimore-based actor, Michael Sullivan, is making his debut at Cumberland Theatre portraying the legendary character, Hercule Poirot. For more than 15 years, Michael has been a member of the acting company at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC). Favorite roles at CSC include Dracula in “
Dracula;” Cassius and Julius Caesar in “
Julius Caesar;” Benedick in “
Much Ado About Nothing;” Prospero in “
The Tempest;” Titus in “
Titus Andronicus;” George Thunder in “
Wild Oats;” and Ford in “
The Merry Wives of Windsor.”
Michael has also appeared on stages around the Baltimore area in roles such as Martin in “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia;” Elyot in “Private Lives;” Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music;” Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple;” and Charlie Baker in “The Foreigner.” He began his professional career as a reporter for WHAG-TV working in Cumberland. He is a graduate of James Madison University and a lifelong resident of Baltimore City.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be an actor after starting out as a reporter?
I’ve acted since I was very young and continued throughout my time at James Madison University. I studied journalism and intended to pursue that as a profession upon graduation—which I did. In fact, my first job as a reporter was working for WHAG-TV in Cumberland 35 years ago. Throughout much of my professional career as a journalist and communicator, I considered acting a hobby. But after a long-hiatus, I started acting again 20 years ago and got connected with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. I grew as an actor as the company grew into the leading professional “classics” theatre in the state. I began working as a theatre professional and it is now my principal occupation.
Hercule Poirot is an iconic role. What was it about the play or the role that lured you to Cumberland from Baltimore and making your debut at the Cumberland Theatre?
I did know Cumberland and the Western Maryland area but I didn’t know much about the theatre. I was struck by how professional Cumberland Theatre productions (CT) “looked” from what I saw online and was intrigued by the season CT had planned for its 35th Anniversary. Like many, I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels and seeing various stage and film adaptations. There simply aren’t as many productions of great old stories such as “Murder on the Orient Express” these days. The role of Hercule Poirot is different from many that I have played, and I’ve been doing Shakespeare and classical plays almost exclusively for the last decade. So I thought it was a great opportunity to pursue that challenge and wear a gravity defying mustache. I’m grateful to CT and Artistic Director Kimberli Rowley for giving this Baltimore guy a shot at this classic role.
What is it like working with the rest of the cast?
Oh, man. I’m impressed with the talent and experience that has been assembled for this show. There are actors from New York, Illinois, and all over—plus talent from Cumberland and across Maryland. It’s really great to work with folks who you’ve never worked with before and who bring different views and perspectives from acting experiences that differ greatly from mine—people who have studied and performed all over the country. Plus, CT theatre works fast, so you bond quickly and work together to get the show up and humming. It’s been especially fun since there are so many dialects in this show— Hungarian, French, Scottish, Swedish. But perhaps the best thing is the British cast member doing an American dialect—lawlessly I might add!
You are a Touchstone Company artist at CSC. What was your favorite role(s)?
There are many since I’ve been a part of the company for 18 years of its 20-year existence. I loved playing Benedick with Lesley Malin (Chesapeake Shakespeare’s Producing Executive Director) as Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Cassius in “Julius Caesar” and Prospero in “The Tempest” are also among my favorites. But perhaps the role I loved the most was playing Dracula in an outdoor production we mounted in Fall 2013. We moved around the ruins of an old girls’ school near Ellicott City, MD and it was great atmospheric fun.
Are there any other characters that you would like to play that are still on your bucket list?
Well, oddly, one bucket list role is a part I’ve already played—Prospero in “The Tempest.” I played the role when I was much younger and it’s typically portrayed by an older actor. I’d like another shot at it now that I’m older and have a whole other set of life experiences upon which to draw. I’d also love the opportunity to play King Lear someday. I’ve never had a chance to perform in works by many great American playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neil, David Mamet, Sam Shepard and others— which I’d love to do. Like most actors, I imagine, I’m always trying to convince some director that I’m perfect for the show that’s just around the corner.
“Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Kimberli Rowley, runs through February 19, 2023 at Cumberland Theatre, 101 N. Johnson Street, Cumberland, MD 21502. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For more information and tickets, go online.