A shady businessman is found murdered in his locked sleeping compartment on the Orient Express. Will the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, be able to solve the mystery with his formidable “little gray cells” or has he finally met a killer too cunning for him? Find out in Murder On the Orient Express adapted by Ken Ludwig from a novel written by Agatha Christie. It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.
It’s awfully hard to write about the plot without being too spoilery so I’ll simply say that Ludwig does an admirable job hitting the essential points of the classic mystery. With his involvement, I was expecting more of a comedy, but Ludwig plays this script surprisingly straight, though he does leave room open for a bit of over the topness with some of the characters. The mash-up of comedy and drama weaken the first act slightly, but he sticks the ending on the second act as he seems to have decided to be almost totally dramatic with that act.
Todd Uhrmacher provides a solid piece of direction for the production, handling the dual natures of comedy and drama in the first act quite well and excelling with the nearly purely dramatic second act. I liked the staging of his show as he placed his actors well in the cramped confines of the train without the actors ever seeming bunched up or blocking each other. Uhrmacher guided his actors to well-defined performances as each imbued a distinct character.
Some enjoyable performances were supplied by Michael Taylor-Stewart who comes off as somewhat off-kilter and creepy as the secretary of the murder victim and Gene Hinkle as the genial CEO of the company that owns the Orient Express. But Jeff Garst deserves special notice for an exceptional performance as the conductor, Michel. He gives Michel a very efficient nature and he nails a brief, heart-wrenching moment at the show’s finale.
Jon Flower is an extremely worthy Hercule Poirot. He has a firm grip on the sleuth with a flawless Belgian accent, well communicating Poirot’s genius with his deductions, displaying a very gentlemanly and cultured nature, and demonstrating Poirot’s fastidious personality with the care he gives to Poirot’s signature moustache. Flower also brings a certain weightiness to Poirot who has to wrestle with a choice between his devotion to the law and his dedication to justice which, for the first time in his career, may not be one and the same.
D. Laureen Pickle is utterly obnoxious as Mrs. Hubbard. Almost from the get-go one begins looking for a muzzle to clamp shut the mouth of the man-hungry, stuck-up, grating American snob. Pickle plays this character slightly over the top, but always keeps it in the realm of believability. She also deftly handles the character’s more dramatic moments when certain secrets begin to come to light.
I don’t think Joey Lorincz could design a bad set even if he was working blindfolded. He has created one of the most ambitious sets I’ve seen on the Bellevue stage with a three room revolving set that shows an elegant dining room, an office/rear of the train, and the tiny, sleeping compartments one would expect to find on a train. Lorincz does double duty on lights which were also quite effective, especially the dark blue of the recalling of clues during the denouement. Todd Urhmacher also pulls double duty with his designing of the costumes which evoke memories of the 1930s with the elegant dresses of the ladies and the snappy suits of the men and the classic conductor’s tunic for Michel. My program lacked a credit for sound effects, but liked the sounds of the train whistle and the rumble of the wheels on the track.
I thought the pace of the first act could have had a snappier pace and there were a few moments when speaking actors were in darkness. Volume and projection could have been a bit stronger on the parts of some of the actors and accents were a bit of a mixed bag.
Ultimately, this show is a very pleasant theatre experience with the combination of a faithful telling of a legendary mystery and compelling characters making for a respite from the real world for a few hours.
Murder On the Orient Express plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 2. Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays. Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students. Tickets can be obtained at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or calling 402-291-1554 during the hours of 10am-4pm Mon-Sat. Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.