Posts Tagged ‘murder on the orient express’

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express
by Agatha Christie
Adapted by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Hana S. Sharif
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
March 24, 2023

Armando Durán
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep’s shows have long been known to have high production values, but with their latest show, I think they’ve outdone themselves. In this production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, the technical  aspects are so impressive, they threaten to upstage the also superb cast. It’s a vibrant, thrilling, dramatic, and often humorous staging where every note rings true, and the technical aspects lend a cinematic flair that makes this show a true must-see.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s better-known stories, and it’s been filmed several times over the years for the big and small screens. Here, as adapted by Ken Ludwig, the cast has been pared down a little and the story streamlined slightly, but the tone is classic Christie, and Hana Sharif’s brisk direction keeps the story moving along in a well-timed, almost filmlike way, as the legendary Christie detective Hercule Poirot (Armando Durán) tells the story after a brief filmed introduction that has the feel of classic Hollywood cinema. The action begins in a hotel, as Poirot prepares to embark on the storied Orient Express train. He fortuitously runs into his old friend Monsieur Bouc (Jamil A. C. Mangan), who runs the train line and helps Poirot secure a ticket for what he hopes will be a relaxing journey. Soon, however, the detective finds himself surrounded by intrigue, as a collection of disparate characters converge on the train, and of course, there’s a murder. Of course, Poirot has to solve the case, but it’s not easy when everyone around him seems to be hiding something, and the train itself becomes caught in a snowstorm. I won’t give away the conclusion, but it’s one of Christie’s more inventive ones, and it’s made especially believable here by means of staging and the excellent cast.

The memorable characters are cast especially well, with Durán leading the way as the determined, clever Poirot. Mangan, as Bouc, is also strong, showing a lot of charm and energy as he assists Poirot and tries to maintain order on the train. Standouts also include the marvelous Ellen Harvey as the strong-willed, much-married American Helen Hubbard; Gayton Scott as exiled Russian Princess Dragomiroff; Fatima Wardak as the devout, nervous missionary Greta Ohlsson; and Christopher Hickey and Aria Maholchic (the understudy, filling in for principal Margaret Ivy) as the secretive lovers Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham. Cameron Jamarr Davis is also memorable as Hector MacQueen, private secretary to Joel Moses’s shady, boorish Samuel Ratchet; and Michael Thanh Tran lends strong support as dutiful train conductor Michel. This cast is supported by a small ensemble of Webster University students (Luka Cruz, Kyleigh Grimsbo, Colby Willis, and usually Maholchic), lending to the overall filled-out, movie-like feel of the production. 

Also contributing to that cinematic flair is the truly spectacular set by Tim Mackabee, which meticulously recreates a series of locales, including several train cars, and utilizes the stage’s turntable to magnificent effect, with scene changes meticulously timed to go along with the richly produced, filmlike score by composers and sound designers Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts. There are also dazzling projections by Michael Salvatore Commendatore and marvelous lighting by Jason Lynch, contributing to the overall 1930s atmosphere and thrilling tone of the story. There are also excellent period costumes by Fabio Toblini that contribute to the overall atmosphere of the show.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is a riveting, thrilling, cinematic marvel that captures the essence of classic Christie tales while also maintaining an “Old Hollywood” sense of glamor and style. It’s an expertly choreographed, technically dazzling show that holds the audience’s attention from the very first moment. The cast is excellent, but the set is so spectacular that the train itself becomes a character in the show as well. It’s a wonderful old-fashioned whodunit with style, energy, moments of well-timed humor and credible drama. It’s a remarkable feat for the Rep.

Cast of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Repertory Theatre of St Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express until April 9, 2023

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