‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Arrives in Southern California
If the success of Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen remake of Murder on the Orient Express was any indication last year, audiences are still craving for a well-crafted whodunit loaded with a long list of suspects. (Case in point: a remake of Death on the Nile is also in the works at 20th Century Fox.)
That’s probably why Southern California is the place to find the West Coast premiere of the first-ever stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s seminal mystery, thanks to the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and Executive Producers Tom McCoy and Cathy Rigby (of McCoy Rigby Entertainment).
This new take on Murder, which has been adapted by two-time Olivier Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig and directed by Sheldon Epps, the Artistic Director Emeritus at Pasadena Playhouse, should thrill and surprise Agatha Christie loyalists.
The thrill comes from seeing a recreation of the titular train on stage, particularly two cars in which a majority of the action takes place. Stephen Gifford’s impressive designs of these massive mobile platforms is a sight to behold, though sometimes a distraction from the players who are so game to bring these iconic characters to life.
The surprise comes from the liberties taken regarding the characters and overall tone. To make the staging (and running time) more manageable, Christie’s original dozen of suspects has been trimmed down to eight. Look carefully, and you’ll notice that a couple of the actors are also pulling double duty; Matthew Floyd Miller appears as both Colonel Arbuthnot and the villainous Samuel Ratchett. The actor manages to have fun jumping between a Scottish brogue and a New York gangster during the first act.
And mystery buffs may also be surprised to discover that some comedy has been injected into this adaptation. “I think the genres of comedy and mystery have a lot in common,” Ludwig explains. “Both start with the puzzle assembled, and suddenly the pieces are taken apart and thrown into the air. And then they finally come down, and all is well.” The result works, giving us an enjoyable spin on an efficiently run machine that has been chugging along ever since audiences first laid their eyes on director Sidney Lumet’s masterful 1974 interpretation.
The cast of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express features Tony Amendola as the world-famous detective Hercule Poirot and as well as (in alphabetical order) Julia Aks as Greta Ohlsson, Hope Noel Bradley as Daisy Armstrong (in the attention-grabbing prologue), a perfectly neurotic Will Block as Hector MacQueen, Anne Gee Byrd as Princess Dragomiroff, Brad Culver as Michel the Conductor, a scene-chewing Christine Dunford as Helen Hubbard, Zarah Mahler as Countess Andrenyi, Rachel Seiferth as Mary Debenham and Time Winters as Monsieur Bouc.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express runs now through November 11 at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at www.lamiradatheatre.com or by calling the La Mirada Theatre Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. Student, Senior and group discounts are available. $15 Student Tickets available for the first 15 performances.