All aboard! McCarter Theatre‘s Artistic Director and Resident Playwright, Emily Mann, directs Ken Ludwig‘s (A Comedy of Tenors and The Mousetrap) adaptation of Agatha Christie’s iconic murder mystery Murder on the Orient Express. This is a classic whodunit with a twist. Ludwig tastefully sprinkles in some humor, so even if you have read the book or seen a movie or TV version of this, McCarter offers you a refreshing rendition.
The prologue shows a young girl, Daisy Armstrong, being kidnapped from her bed, then a train light blinds the audience. Belgian native detective Hercule Poirot arrives at the Tokatlian Hotel in Istanbul, where he receives a telegram to return to London. He attempts to book a first-class compartment on the Orient Express for that evening, but it is unusually booked out for that time of year. Poirot coincidentally meets his longtime friend and fellow Belgian, Monsieur Bouc, who manages the train and gives him his first-class compartment. Shortly after all are board, Poirot is approached by American businessman Samuel Ratchett, who reveals that his life is being threatened and he would like to hire the detective. Poirot declines. The train stops due to snow drifts that night, and the following morning Ratchett is found stabbed to death in his compartment. The investigation begins.
The cast is balanced well. Allan Corduner (The Birthday Party at McCarter) brilliantly plays Hercule Poirot with all of his eccentricities. Judy Halston was larger than life as Helen Hubbard, the famous New York stage actress, with jazz hands and all. Alexandra Silber portrays Countess Andrenyi with grace adding a boost of elegance and Evan Zes as Monsieur Bouc brings much of the comedic relief. McCarter patrons might recognize other faces on stage. Veanne Cox (Princess Dragomiroff) was in Twelfth Night, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh (Michel the Conductor/Headwaiter) was the lead in this season’s Disgraced and Susannah Hoffman (Mary Debenham) played Baby Doll in last season’s Baby Doll.
This must be the most glamorous production to date. The costume designs by William Ivey Long will take your breath away, especially Countess Andrenyi’s gown and Helen Hubbard’s outfit is also a standout. The men are quite dapper, especially Poirot, who is wearing polished black shoes accompanied by white spats. Long, who teamed up with Ludwig in A Comedy of Tenors, has been nominated for 15 Tony Awards, winning six times, and it shows!
2007 OBIE Award winner Beowulf Boritt designed the set, which is very impressive. In true vintage form, he has created a dining car with luxurious red velvet upholstery on dark wood, art deco metalwork and “Lalique” glass panels, a compartment car with beds and other amenities with art deco accents, plus a conductor station that all rolls back and forth across the stage.
This production will give you chills, especially after the prologue, make you laugh out loud, and keep you in suspense throughout the performance (unless you know the ending). Mann and Ludwig are a dynamic duo offering one of Christie’s top mysteries in a traditional, yet re-imagined production. The script, acting, directing, set, and costumes make this a work of art that you cannot miss!
Murder on the Orient Express is playing on the Matthews stage until Sunday, April 2 and is recommended for children 10 and up. Runtime is one hour, 50 minutes with one intermission. You can buy tickets online, call 609-258-2787, or go to the box office located at 91 University Place in Princeton.