‘Murder on the Orient Express’ streams along in sizzling suspense

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, NJ – Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, “Murder on the Orient Express,” has received a terrific stage adaptation by Ken Ludwig. He’s taken a few liberties with the numerous characters, but has tightened the story line so that it all works seamlessly.

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Ludwig has injected any number of numerous asides, delivered by a sterling cast of potential murder suspects. Allan Corduner is the impeccable Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian detective whose mind is shrewd and cunning. Poirot steps forward at the beginning of the play to address the audience. He has booked a train ticket from Istanbul to Calais, France and, despite the crowded conditions, the train owner assures him he’ll have a suite of his own.

The sets are stunning as the train chugs along, with an elegant dining car, sleeping quarters and caboose. The time is 1934 and Beowulf Boritt’s set reflects the period, as do William Ivey Long’s stunning costumes. And those hats for the women! Flamboyant and impressive.  Much of the dialogue has a Noel Coward touch, which keeps the story sparkling.  Part of the fun of this production are the visual effects, including Darron L. West’s sound design, with the speeding up and creaking train.

Julie Halston as Helen Hubbard delivers a dazzling ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ in one scene as she sings along with a recording, practically doing a Charleston in a tiny space. There are priceless lines, such as Helen’s comments about ‘seek and you shall find, followed by ‘the world is your oyster. She bring it off with flair. Veanne Cox is Princess Dragamiroff, sharp and elderly, totally unimpressed by Helen’s antics. Then we have Countess Andrenyi, elegantly dressed in white and brought off with charm by Alexandra Silber.

The men are equally dapper, with Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Michael the Conductor, Evan Zes as Monsieur Bauc and Max von Essen as Colonel Arbuthnot.  Susannah Hoffman plays Mary Debenham, a young woman who has received a knife wound. She is in love with Hector MacQueen, (Juha Sorola), who admits he is getting a divorce to marry her.  But they seem to have several intimate secrets.  Samantha Steinmetz as Greta Ohlsson is hilarious in her erratic concerns and emotional outbursts. Ultimately, we realize that everyone has a motive for murder.

Emily Mann has directed this frothy, hilarious mystery with just the right touch of intrigue. You won’t want to miss a minute of “Murder on the Orient Express,” playing at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton through April 2. For tickets, call 609-258-2787 or visit mccarter.org.