You’ll Thoroughly Enjoy Hartford Stage’s Stylish Production of Classic Agatha Christie Murder Mystery
By Karen Isaacs
Hartford Stage is presenting the stylish production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express that originated last year at the McCarter Theater in Princeton. It won raves and it is now in Hartford – with a few cast changes – through Sunday, March 25.
If you are a Christie fan, this is sure to delight you, even if you saw the recent film remake of the famous mystery; I’ve heard that the remake was less than stellar.
Yet even if you find Christie’s plots too convoluted, you will enjoy this production. It features inventive sets, terrific costumes and wonderful acting.
Director Emily Mann, the McCarter’s artistic director, has done a masterful job of keeping the pace up. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation adds laughs to the other aspects of the mystery,
In case you don’t remember the plot, the mystery begins in Istanbul where in the mid-1920s, a number of passengers board the famed train, the Orient Express, for a trip to England. Surprisingly (it is winter) the first class carriage is full. One of the passengers is the famed Belgium detective Hercule Poirot returning to London from a brief vacation. The play begins with a brief scene of a little girl being abducted.
As soon as the train leaves the station, an American (Ratchett) asks Poirot to investigate the threatening letters he has been receiving; Poirot turns him down. By the next morning, Rachett has been murdered and the train is soon stranded in a snow drift.
Why was he killed? Who did it? At first look at the passengers, all seem unlikely suspects. There’s Princess Dragomiroff, a member of Russian nobility in exile, and her companion Greta Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary who works with babies in Africa. Countess Andrenyi is an American physician who married nobility; Colonel Arbuthnot is the married Scottish Army officer in love with Mary Debenham. Then there’s the rich, multi-married widow from Minneapolis (Helen Hubbard), as well as the assistant (Hector McQueen) to the murdered man and Michel, the head steward on board the train.
Poirot quickly determines that the killer was someone on the train, but who? The clues point in all sorts of directions. And the question also remains, why was Ratchett killed?
If you have seen one of the film versions, it is the not the answer to those questions that will keep you entertained, but the way the cast and the production get you to the solution.
The production team has created memorable sets, costumes lighting and sound. Hartford Stage has reverted to a proscenium theater. Beowulf Boritt created a series of art-deco train cars that roll on and off the stage to show us the cabins, the lounge, the back caboose and other elements. If this what the Orient Expressed looked like, I wish I had traveled on it. It epitomizes the elements of the art-deco style.
William Ivey Long has designed costumes of the period for the characters; again many are in the art-deco style of the 1920s.
But even with these elements, it all depends on the cast. This cast is overall, terrific.
David Pittu is new to the role of Hercule Poirot but he manages to bring his own originality to the role. The Belgium detective has been played through the years by so many outstanding actors, that it might difficult for Pittu to bring something new to the part. But he does. He adds a note of romantic longing to the character. Only two other cast members are new; each is fine. Ian Bedford has taken the roles of Ratchett and Colonel Arbuthnot and Leigh Ann Larking the role of Countess Andrenyi.
Julie Halston reprises her role as the many time married Helen Hubbard. She brings just the right mixture of stereotypical obnoxious American tourist and frightened woman to the part. Halston is a gifted comedienne and draws out all the humor in the script.
Veanne Cox creates Princess Dragomiroff as the dignified exile and Samantha Steinmetz creates the earnest (and perhaps a little simple) Greta Ohlsson.
You may not be surprised at the ending, but you will have had a delightful getting to the Orient Express’s final destination.
It is at Hartford Stage through Sunday, March 25. For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
By Karen Isaacs
Follies, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Cabaret – the list is endless of shows that Hal Prince either directed or produced or both.
So a Broadway show that includes scenes from all these should be terrific. Right? Unfortunately, while Prince of Broadway has many delightful moments, the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to a hit show.
Why is hard to determine. Certainly the cast of the Manhattan Theater Club production (now at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through Oct 22) includes top notch musical theater talent – Tony Yazbeck, Brandon Uranowitz, Emily Skinner, Karen Ziemba and more.
Yet this evening that uses Prince’s biography to string together scenes from both hit and flop shows, only sometimes catches fire.
The show gets off to a slow start. The overture, arranged by composer Jason Robert Brown lists 17 songs as being included, yet somehow it was hard to identify many of them. It seemed as only phrase or two was included.
Throughout the show, various cast members, each speaking as if he or she were Hal Prince, detail parts of his biography. It opens with some bio and then just a snitch of the first show he was involved in – The Pajama Game. We hear a few bars of “Hey, There” but we see no-one. From there were are on to a well sung, but somehow lifeless rendition of “Heart” from Damn Yankees.
The show begins to gather some momentum with West Side Story, the first show Prince produced; at that point chronology goes out the window. Why the remainder of the show is organized the way it is, is a mystery. It seems relatively random.
So what are the highlights? Each member of the nine person cast has moments that are terrific. Kaley Ann Voorhees is a luminous Maria in “Tonight” from West Side Story and Janet Dacal is hilarious doing “You’ve Got Possibilities “ from It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman. She’s also a very good Eva Peron and Aurora (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Byronha Marie Parkham does her best work as Amalia in She Loves Me with “Will He Like Me?”
Tony Yazbeck once again demonstrates not only his exceptional dance talent, but also his strong voice. He’s Tony in West Side Story, Che in Evita, and with a nod to Jason Robert Brown, Leo in Parade. Since I had never seen nor heard the entire show, his rendition of “It’s Not Over Yet” was a highlight for me. It is an exceptionally moving song. But the extended dance number in Follies, while well executed doesn’t seem to have a purpose beyond showing off his skills.
Once again, I was delighted with the performance of Brandon Uranowitz,as the Emcee in Cabaret, George in She Loves Me and Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Chuck Cooper scored with songs from Showboat and as Sweeny Todd, though his Tevye was not as good.
Michael Xavier has followed up his performance as Joe in the recent Sunset Boulevard with some excellent work as the Phantom, Bobby in Company and Fredrik in A Little Night Music.
The first act closing number, a series of songs from Cabaret was terrific. Not only was Brandon Uranowitz is excellent as the Emcee but Karen Ziemba gave us two characters – the gorilla in “If You Could See Her” and a touching Fraulien Schneider is “So What?” Her performance as Mrs. Lovett in “The Worst Pies in London” was a highlight of the second act. These are two roles I hope some director casts Ziemba in very soon.
Emily Skinner’s best number is“The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company; her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is very good but not outstanding.
Certainly the production values are excellent. Beowulf Boritt (scenic and production
design) and William Ivey Long (costume design) have handled the huge task for recreating moods for these diverse shows in different periods and location with finesse. As has Howell Binnkley with the lighting design.
Susan Stroman is credited as both choreographer and co-director with Prince himself.
Although I just wish that Prince of Broadway had somehow caught fire more than did, it is still a very enjoyable evening in the theater – revisiting favorite musicals or discovering some new ones.
It is at the Manhattan Theater Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street. Tickets are available through Telecharge.