Board ‘Orient Express’ at Hartford Stage for Full-Steam Ride – A Regal, Riveting Riot

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The cast of “Murder on the Orient Express.” Photo credit: T. Charles Erickson

All aboard the Orient Express at the Hartford Stage, where you’ll meet passengers of varying backgrounds from all different countries on a high-speed ride of luxury, intrigue, delight…and murder.

Agatha Christie, the acclaimed mystery novelist who authored “Murder on the Orient Express,” traveled on the famous Orient Express, the Titanic of the tracks, in the late 1920s after her mother died and she divorced her husband, who was having an affair, an excerpt in the program by Charlotte Weber of McCarter Theatre Center recounts. Christie’s fascination with trains manifests as a recurring theme in her books and she thought the containment of characters on a train would make the perfect close-range setting for a murder mystery. And so this Hercule Poirot light-hearted, yet impassioned whodunit was born.

The first thing that strikes you about this production is its set – the work of Tony Award-winning scenic designer Beowulf Boritt. You would expect boarding a luxury train to put you in awe as you take in its decadence and fine aesthetics with your eyes. That is exactly what it’s like for the audience, the stowaway passengers aboard this train if you will, when the Orient Express is revealed to us on stage. Fashioned on a track, we slide from compartment to compartment and car to car thanks to smoothly maneuvered set transitions that give you a sense of not only the motion of the train, but also the movement and suspense of the story. Each room we see on the train is ornately decorated. The set even has depth to it, from the snow to a forest of trees layered behind and around the train. The curtains fly open and swing shut to zoom in on individual happenings and also give a more distanced vantage point of an entire train or car.

The period costumes by William Ivey Long and wigs by Paul Huntley are the epitome of glam.

Train travel naturally exposes you to a cast of quirky characters so it’s no surprise that “Orient Express” is no different. You have the astute, heavily mustached famous Belgian – not French – Det. Hercule Poirot (David Pittu) who is a last-minute addition on the supposedly booked train.

Then there’s the boisterous Scotsman Colonel Arbuthnot (Ian Bedford) apparently involved in a discreet love affair with a lovely English governess named Mary Debenham (Susannah Hoffman). And you can’t miss Helen Hubbard (Julie Halston), an American with a flair for the dramatics. Plus you’ve got royalty – the comically foreboding Princess Dragomiroff (Veanne Cox), accompanied by skittish woman of god Greta Ohlsson (Samantha Steinmetz), and the alluring, keen Countess Andrenyi (Leigh Ann Larkin) who has a medical background.

Finally, you have the aggressive, hotheaded Mr. Ratchett (also played by Ian Bedford) who is stabbed to death on the train and has mafia ties to the abduction and suspected murder of a little girl named Daisy Armstrong (Jordyn Elizabeth Schmidt, of “A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story of Christmas” at Hartford Stage.)

Plus there’s dutiful and poised conductor Michel and show-stopping comically expressive company master Monsieur Bouc (Evan Zes), a personal friend to Poirot.

So whodunit?

You’ll have to come to Hartford Stage to find out.

But our loveable narrator Poirot does get to the bottom of it and he is faced with a heart-wrenching decision to heed to the law or protect justice served in another form. His decision keeps him up at night to the point that he can’t close his eyes until daylight. Would you do the same thing in his position?

Your ride on the Orient Express will be very fast-paced and riveting with laughs that punctuate the bumpy, jolting thrills. The plot advances quickly, speeding ahead full throttle, never lulling despite the occasional snow drift and single intermission.

Ken Ludwig – a Tony and Olivier Award-winning playwright who has authored acclaimed plays like “Moon Over Buffalo” – wrote his stage adaptation of the notorious Christie classic just last year after writing it at the bequest of the author’s estate. Simultaneously and separately, Twentieth Century Fox released a remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” in 2017.

“Murder on the Orient Express,” directed by Emily Mann and delivered by esteemed McCarter Theatre, boards at Hartford Stage through March 25. Get your tickets to enjoy the journey at https://www.hartfordstage.org.

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