“Murder on the Orient Express”
Hartford Stage is currently presenting an extremely stylish and smashingly elegant production of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” As adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig, this play sails smoothly from beginning to end, with lots of surprises and an impeccably cast group of actors. In fact, “Murder on the Orient Express” is a complete pleasure throughout, with the wonderful David Pittu proving to be the perfect Hercule Poirot.
Even if you are familiar with this show’s plot from either the original novel or one of the film versions of “Murder on the Orient Express,” Ludwig and the gorgeously talented director Emily Mann have transferred this property into a completely viable and exhilarating theatrical experience. So, hop aboard Hartford Stage’s “Murder on the Orient Express” for one of the most engaging and thrilling rides of your life.
It is evident right from the beginning that “Murder on the Orient Express” is going to be a good show. After a jarring scene where a small girl named Daisy (played by the adorable Jordyn Elizabeth Schmidt) is kidnapped, it follows with an appearance from David Pittu’s supremely well-acted Hercule Poirot. When the lights come up on the first scene and one can see Beowulf Borritt’s sumptuously designed set, with equally ravishing costumes by William Ivey Long, one is immediately transported to the 1930s, as the various characters are gradually preparing to board the Orient Express.
This cast of characters is portrayed by a sterling group of actors. As the elderly Princess Dragomiroff, Veanne Cox is absolutely ideal and she is accompanied by the equally gifted Samantha Steinmetz, as her somewhat agitated companion, Greta Ohlsson. Also shining brightly in this production is the riotous Julie Halston as the ultra-theatrical, extremely outspoken Helen Hubbard. Having seen the divinely talented Halston onstage before, it is little surprise to see that she makes the most out of just about every line and gesture.
As Countess Andrenyi, Leigh Ann Larkin gives a lovely performance and she, like her fellow performers, looks great dressed to the nines. The exuberant Susannah Hoffman plays the secretive Mary Debenham, who is trying to travel incognito, despite being caught in the arms of the married Colonel Arbuthnot, embodied by the rugged and handsome Ian Bedford.
As it turns out, Ian Bedford actually does double duty in “Murder on the Orient Express,” shining in both roles, as he also plays the nervous Samuel Ratchett, who attempts to hire Hercule Poirot at the start of the show, because of a succession of threatening letters that he has recently received. Also playing dual parts is the dapper Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, who does well as both the head waiter in the opening restaurant scene and the porter, Michel, on the Orient Express.
In addition, the company includes the expert Juha Sorola, who plays Samuel Ratchett’s companion, Hector MacQueen. Charles Paul Mihaliak is fine in two small roles and Evan Zes is excellent as Monsieur Bouc, who runs the Orient Express and wants to keep any mention of a crime on the train out of the papers.
Then, of course, there is the role of master detective Hercule Poirot. Any production of “Murder on the Orient Express” will rise or fall in the casting of this character, and Hartford Stage is extremely fortunate to have the terrific David Pittu playing this part. The audience essentially sees the show through Poirot’s eyes, and one follows him in his investigation. In addition to being quite dashing, complete with a stylish mustache, Pittu personifies this famous character delightfully.
“Murder on the Orient Express” at Hartford Stage is one of the most exquisitely wrought and dazzling productions I have ever been lucky enough to see and one cannot overstate the absolute expertise of the scenic and costume designers, with Ken Billington supplying the superb lighting. Just about everything clicks in this “Murder on the Orient Express” and, as one watches the show, it truly seems that an actual train is onstage, so seamlessly is the show staged by Emily Mann. For an evening of opulent fun and mystery, Hartford Stage’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is the place to be.
“Murder on the Orient Express” continues performances at Hartford Stage in Hartford, CT through March 25, 2018. For tickets, please visit www.hartfordstage.org or call the box office 860-527-5151.
Photo: David Pittu and Evan Zes
Photo by T. Charles Erickson