Paper Mill Playhouse presents Ken Ludwig’s stage adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig, is now onstage at Paper Mill Playhouse until May 14. 
Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in 1934, and set the action of her book in 1934. She wrote 88 novels, 19 plays, and according to one internet source, is The Best Selling Novelist of All Time. Several film versions of her mystery have been made, including Kenneth Branagh starring in and directing his 2017 film, and another film directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974 and starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot with a bouquet of famous stars in the major roles. Let’s skip over the CBS remake from 2001. Ken Ludwig has adapted the story for the stage, streamlining it slightly by omitting a few characters to bring the live theatrical production to just about two hours. 
Anthony Cochrane is Hercule Poirot for this production. He joins such celebrated Poirots as Albert Finney, Kenneth Branagh, and David Suchet of the television series. Many of you may fondly remember the splendid production McCarter Theatre Center gave in 2017. Who could ever forget the Helen Hubbard of Julie Halston, one of America’s great actresses? Well, the masterful scenic designs by Beowulf Boritt thrilled us then, and thrills us now at Paper Mill Playhouse. The train, where most of the action occurs, still incites audiences to applause many times during the performance. 
For many, the 1974 film may have been your initial exposure to this mystery. It was for me, and still holds up in my memory as the Murder on the Orient Express. The luminous performance of the hysterical missionary by Ingrid Bergman was transfixing. Dame Wendy Hiller as the Russian Princess and Sean Connery and Vanessa Redgrave as the two lovers, oh my. 
Young Casey Hushion directs Murder on the Orient Express here, emphasizing the humor with occasional overemphasis on the jokey bits, and sitting rather heavily on the broad strokes Ken Ludwig wrote into the play. Anthony Cochrane was a refreshingly direct Poirot. Unlike the famous film actors in the role, he underplayed, rather than overplayed, his character’s eccentricities.  Stephanie Gibson was a loud, hysterical Greta Ohlsson, the Missionary. She undoubtedly was directed to overact and clown her way through the role, and she succeeded in evoking peals of laughter from the audience. Evan Zes was a fine actor who was also encouraged to play up his humorous bits, adding hops and jumps which often punctuated his lines as Monsieur Bouc. Karen Ziemba loudly overplayed the brassy, sassy Helen Hubbard to the point where the audience anticipated each line she spoke to be a hilarious one-liner. For the rest of the cast, they performed with professionalism and resolution. 
Rarely seen, with a large and varied cast of characters, this production merits your attention, so see it indeed if for no other reasons than to find out how the murder happened, and who did it, and to see the beautiful train where the action takes place. 
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig, will be onstage at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ, until May 14, 2023. Next up will be Rent, June 7-July 2, 2023. For more information, visit: .

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