The fast-moving, able affected adaptable “Murder on the Orient Express” at Hartford Date through March 25, makes stops in Syria, Paris and a snowbound, tree-lined mural in between.
But area it absolutely wants to be is Broadway. Admitting the characters allege in a host of over-the-top European accents, the argot is New York snappy. The show’s designers are Broadway admirers — apparel artist extraordinaire William Ivey Continued (a accustomed for the gig, accepting done the contempo Broadway awakening of “On the Twentieth Century”), breathtaking artist Beowulf Boritt (“Come From Away,” “Meteor Shower”), lighting artist Ken Billington (who formed with Boritt on “Sunday in the Park With George” and “Act One”), complete artist Darron L. West (a approved at the McCarter Theatre Centermost area “Orient Express” premiered aftermost year) and alike wig artist Paul Huntley. The director, Emily Mann, is best accepted as the aesthetic administrator of the McCarter Theatre, and as the adaptor of “Having Our Say,” which was performed at Hartford Date and Continued Wharf two seasons ago, but her resume additionally includes the 2012 Broadway awakening of addition appearance with busline in its title, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Ken Ludwig, the able banana author who was alleged especially by the Agatha Christie acreage to acclimate the 1934 abstruseness novel, has had acceptable affluence in New York with the backstage comedies “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo” and the Gershwin-scored agreeable “Crazy for You.” Ludwig, who additionally already did his own adjustment of “Twentieth Century” — the aboriginal 1932 play, not the agreeable — in 2004. He’s actual abundant in his abundance area here, benumbed in style.
The anguish actuality ability be that such a grand, elaborate, Broadway-scaled appearance ability be too big or arrant for a almost affectionate amplitude such as Hartford Date — we’ve got the Bushnell, or Union Station, for being like this.
Happily, this “Orient Express” orients itself to assignment able-bodied with this audience. It’s loud and d, but not distant.
As with its pre-Broadway run of “Anastasia,” (which had a appealing absorbing alternation chugging through it as well) Hartford Date has angry its characteristic advance date into a accepted proscenium set-up. This is not aloof to amateur a added acceptable (and Broadway-friendly) format, or aloof to acquiesce for added seats in the auditorium. It’s because aloof about aggregate happens on a train. It’s a wide, bank set, added than two alternation cars continued admitting you alone see a bit added than one car at a time. How they fit the blow of that massive set backstage is a abstruseness as acute as the one in the play.
Eleven bodies are on this train, a huge cardinal for a new comedy these days. One affiliate of the casting becomes a body appealing quickly. Addition is the acclaimed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who is alleged aloft to investigate the murder. All the blow are suspects.
John Woike | [email protected]
Leigh Ann Larkin as Countess Andrenyi is greeted by David Pittu as Hercule Poirot.
Leigh Ann Larkin as Countess Andrenyi is greeted by David Pittu as Hercule Poirot. (John Woike | [email protected])
If you’ve reread Christie’s atypical recently, you apperceive that the book is appealing flat. There’s a murder, a alternation of interviews and a circumlocutory explanation. There’s little activity and not alike abundant description of the comfortable alternation or the admirable landscapes you can appearance from its windows. Ludwig has his assignment cut out for him, and he makes abiding not to artlessly acquaint aback he can show.
As a prologue, Ludwig dramatizes a abomination that sets the accomplished blow of the comedy in motion; it’s an allowance that requires a accomplished altered set, and an amateur who never turns up again. Then there’s a arena in a Middle Eastern bistro (where Ludwig can’t abide inserting a falafel joke) above-mentioned to anybody boarding the Orient Express. Already aboard, the activity accouterment beyond two alternation cars and the aback end of the train, while backdrops change.
There’s an ancient affluence to the appearance — when, afterwards a big build-up, Leigh Ann Larkin’s Countess Andrenyi enters in a attractive white gown, the admirers responds with aural “oohs” and “ahs.” Special furnishings aren’t appropriate in adjustment to get big army reactions: grace, appearance and banana timing are. Likewise, the designers abandon projections and added contemporary effects.
The aftereffect is a appearance that has to acquire its laughs, its gasps and its ardent “awww”s honestly. The apparel are absolutely gorgeous. The alternation is magnificent. The performances, while allotment to be over-the-top, are controlled and captivating.
There are twists and turns ample on this intrigue-filled all-embracing journey. Ludwig jazzes up Christie’s story, sometimes actually with applesauce tunes such as “The Charleston.” He adds a blood-soaked adventure that’s not in Christie’s book, which keeps the artifice jumping mid-play. Christie purists will absence the red kimono, and may booty affair with the way Ludwig has accumulated two characters (Hildegarde Schmidt and Greta Ohlsson) into one. But any quibbles about accessory artifice credibility are afflicted by the actuality that Ken Ludwig has taken a bleak abstruseness involving a asleep adolescent and angry it into a beam riot.
John Woike / Hartford Courant
Ian Bedford, center, Julie Halston and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh in “Murder on the Orient Express” at Hartford Stage.
Ian Bedford, center, Julie Halston and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh in “Murder on the Orient Express” at Hartford Stage. (John Woike / Hartford Courant)
If you appetite a darker, added abstract “Orient Express” trip, you accept the advantage of renting the contempo Kenneth Branagh blur version. This one respects the abstruseness and its solution, but adds afterimage gags and lively, activated chat that plays like amphitheater routines. The accomplished casting is on Ludwig’s wavelength. David Pittu plays Hercule Poirot like Inspector Clouseau if he were acute and surefooted — he is all mustache, emphasis and arrogance. The alternation administrator Monsieur Bouc (Evan Zes, as prissy and preening as Poirot) has been angry into a Dr. Watson type, the abiding acquaintance for aback artifice credibility charge to be explained.
Ludwig gives a lot of absorption to one doubtable in particular, Helen Hubbard. Instead of a adoring mother, she’s a much-married, awful abhorrent American tourist, advanced and centermost in abounding of the play’s best awash scenes. Hubbard’s played to the base by Julie Halston, the actor and cabaret brilliant who cut her acting teeth as a affiliate of Charles Busch’s abandoned off-off Broadway affiliation in the 1980s. If Pittu’s persnicketiness sets a accent for this show, Halston’s amusing outbursts set the volume. She gets to interrupt, alter and contrarily command the stage, whether with alternate whoops or a diffuse banana monologue.
All the actors grab at accessible stereotypes, but authority assimilate them and accumulate them consistent. (To be fair, the characters are not consistently who they arise to be, and accidentally fatigued aboriginal impressions ammunition a lot of the mystery.) The agreeable amphitheater brilliant Veanne Cox keeps her arch low and his amateur shrugged as the aged Princess Dragomiroff, evoking the old-lady quirks of “Saturday Night Live”’s Kate McKinnon. There’s a adventurous aggressive administrator (Ian Bedford), a candied adolescent babysitter (Susannah Hoffman), a shy bespectacled secretary (Juha Sorola) and a nun (Samantha Steinmetz).
These are not necessarily the roles that Agatha Christie created. They are fabricated to fit into a altered fabulous universe, that of archetypal American melodrama. There is adventurousness and suspense. There is a bizarre artifice involving bulk of props, from a abridged watch to a hatbox to a on.
Mostly, there are laughs. Administrator Emily Mann and Ken Ludwig’s intricate calligraphy makes abiding this alternation runs on time, and with accomplished banana timing. “Murder on the Orient Express” will get you to a bigger place, and annihilate you blithely en route.
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, acclimatized for the date by Ken Ludwig and directed by Emily Mann, runs through March 25 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.. and Sunday at 2 p.m., with added 2 p.m. matinees on Feb. 28 and March 10 and 17. Tickets are $25 to $90. 860-527-5151, hartfordstage.org.
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