Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS Brings A Tantalizing Whodunnit To Civic Theatre

Audience members get to gasp, laugh, and analyze in their turn as Poirot works his mystery-solving magic.

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There's a reason that Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time: she sure knows how to write a story. Her works have been immortalized in many ways, and the stage production of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS adapted by Ken Ludwig is another great example of her storytelling prowess come to life. Audience members get to gasp, laugh, and analyze in their turn as Poirot works his mystery-solving magic.


I came into this play with high expectations. I am, after all, the proud granddaughter of a well-read Englishwoman who fed my voracious appetite for books with plenty of Agatha Christie. I'm happy to say I was quickly pulled into this production at The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.

If you're going to do justice to this story, you have to have the right Hercule Poirot. He is an iconic character who is hard to reproduce without veering too much into caricature or too much into stiff detective work. Eric Reiberg did an excellent job balancing these two personas and came out with a quirky but intelligent version that I found absolutely charming. You want to come along with him as he works to solve the mystery and also secretly (or maybe not so secretly) want him to be your friend.

Another standout among the cast was Helen Hubbard, played by Sherra Lasley. From the moment she opens her mouth, you know you're in for a real treat. Whether you love her or love to hate her, she puts her all onto that stage, and she certainly drew the laughs with her antics. It also makes her transition as a character that much more exciting to witness because you spend so much time convinced you know exactly who she is.

I'm always a fan of a good side character who brings a little something extra to the stage, and I found that in Princess Dragomiroff who was played by Susan Hill. She didn't draw the laughs or screams, but she had gravitas. Anyone who can evoke presence on a stage, even among a crowd, will undoubtedly draw my attention. Her portrayal also made her an excellent foil for her fumbling travel companion, Greta Ohlsson (Alexis Koshenina).

Finally, there was top-notch attention to detail in the set design by Ryan Koharchik. He had a small stage to work with that had to undergo subtle scene transitions and somehow give you the sense that you were on a moving train. Yet somehow, he pulled it off and provided the perfect backdrop to offset the characters. The ensemble as a whole made this production great fun to witness, and I found myself drawn into the story yet again, even though I've read it so many times before. I suppose that proves that good storytelling is timeless.


It's all aboard for writer Ken Ludwig's 2017 shrewd recreation of the rich mystery writer's 1934 novel, which depicted the famous detective Hercule Poirot resolving a murder on a lavish train traveling across eastern Europe. The story was made into films in 1974 and again in 2017, when Kenneth Branagh played Poirot.

But how does go about staging a play that takes place on a train? Ryan Koharchik's opulent design, strong with Art Deco details, looked fantastic - dark wood panels, brass fixtures, and golden decoration all over the place.

It would have been easy for the fantastic staging to upstage the actors, but the Civic's strong performance placed the actors front and center. In the Civic Theatre production of the rail-bound murder mystery that recently opened, director John Michael Goodson had the type of ensemble that spoke to the depth of Indy's casting pool. Every one of the eccentrically depicted characters shown in this expansive ensemble was as vivid as they were memorable. The good news for those acquainted with the theater company is that this show had no shortage of talent, including Eric Reiberg, Rex Wolfley, Lauren Frank, Ronald May, and Alexis Koshenina to name a few. The chemistry between these actors and the shone through, and you couldn't help but feel that they are enjoying the show as much we were.

Detailed period costumes balanced the fantastic set perfectly and helped complete the characters and differentiate between them. The meticulous details set the stage for the time and provided color on an darkly colored stage. Costume designer Adrienne Conces spanned the spectrum, from the extravagant multi-colored and textured coat for the Russian Princess, to the austere but functional attire of the English nanny Debenham.

If you've never seen the movies or read Murder on the Orient Express, you'll be both amazed and pleased. And if the story is familiar to you, you'll even now appreciate how everything fit together.

This is one of the hottest tickets in town right now, so don't miss your chance to grab one of the few remaining seats for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. The production runs from now until the 25th at The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.

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