The McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, presented the world premiere of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig, and directed by Artistic Director and Resident Playwright Emily Mann, it was one of the finest plays of this season.
March 23rd was Pride Night, the night the McCarter schedules for every production especially for the LGBTQ community. This evening, the food theme was Asian, and their specialty cocktail was The Poison, Prosecco served with a syringe filled with cherry juice. This event is always a festive way to segue into the night’s featured play.
Murder on the Orient Express was an all-star event, with Emily Mann directing, and theatre legend Ken Ludwig preparing it for the stage. One might remember the film version from decades ago. Even if you saw the film, the stage drama set in 1934 was compelling and tautly constructed. Everything was cast from strength: there was not a weak link in the entire production. The creative team alone read like a Who’s Who of the American Theatre: set design by Beowulf Boritt; costumes by William Ivey Long; lighting by Ken Billington; and sound by Darron L West. Production values were lavish. Excellence was everywhere to be seen, from the clever and beautiful set, extravagant costumes, and expert use of lighting which cleverly highlighted important moments in the play.
The acting was no less grandly cast. At least three of the male leads could have easily been Hercule Poirot. That honor was given to Alan Corduner, who performed the role with elan and wit. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, an exceptionally fine actor, was both The Headwaiter and Michel the Conductor. Evan Zes was Monsieur Bouc, friend of Poirot and executive of the Orient Express. Also fine were Max von Essen and Juha Sorola.
To say it plainly, Julie Halston is the finest comedic actress on the American stage today, period. In the role of Helen Hubbard, Halston was unbeatable. Ken Ludwig wrote the lion’s share of humor in his adaptation for her character, and what a joy for all of us that he did. Her performance was one of the best this season. The other women in the cast were also exceptional. Susan Hoffman as Mary Debenham was fine, while Veanne Cox was unrecognizable and drily funny as the aged Princess Dragomiroff. Samantha Steinmetz was a bizarre and often poignant Greta Ohlsson. As Countess Andrenyi, Alexandra Silber oozed sensuality, luxury, and seduction.
All told, Murder on the Orient Express was an exhilarating evening of great theatre, the kind of theatre that brings happiness and satisfaction into our everyday lives. Sadly, the run was all too short, from March 14 through April 2. Next at the McCarter will be Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel, May 5 through June 4. For information about the play and to secure tickets, call 609-258-2787 or visit www.mccarter.org
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