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‘Murder on the Orient Express’ electrifies at The Fulton

The cast of The Fulton’s, 'Murder on the Orient Express" are a well-oiled machine. Photo courtesy of The Fulton Theatre.

Josh Rittberg
Arts & Culture Editor

The Fulton’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express” is a sprawling take on this classic Agatha Christie murder mystery. The plot centers around Detective Hercule Poirot (Warren Kelley) who is aboard the famed and luxurious, Orient Express. After a sudden murder occurs on the train, Poirot is tasked into investigating the case. As he gets to know the eight suspects on the train deeper, a tale of great intrigue and allure is spun.

Kelley makes for an engaging and humorous guide into this world of mystery and intrigue as Poirot. The character of Poirot is eccentric yet also very methodical in his dealings. He comes onto the Orient Express not intending to go into his detective persona and instead for pleasure. Yet, when the murder occurs, Poirot is hot on the case. With a winking eye to the audience, Kelley is a constant delight with his outrageous accent for the character and a deadpan delivery. Kelley’s Poirot is certainly eccentric yet is downright serious and sincere in his career of sniffing out crimes. Seeing the character piece together this mystery is a constant delight.  Kelley has the challenging task of moving the audience along this twist filled story and he never loses them.  The integrity the actor brings to the role grounds this piece that is full of colorful characters.

Lauren Blackman is absolutely ravishing as the Countess Andrenyi. With a movie star glow, Blackman brings an alluring and constantly intriguing charm to this woman. After she accompanies Poirot in his crusade for justice, she becomes a key player in the story. Susan Cella brings a haunting and old world elegance to Princess Dragomiroff. Although, the royal Dragomiroff is a princess, the actress, Cella, brings a cold demeanor to the character that constantly alarms yet is constantly attention grabbing. Liz Shivener brings great humor to the role of the more religiously devout, Greta Ohlson. With a cowardly demeanor, this character is an amusing foil to Cella’s stern and intimidating, Dragomiroff.  Charis Leos is a scene stealer who brings her usual comedic flair and hijinks to the role of the bold and brassy, Helen Hubbard. 

This cast of Fulton Theatre veterans are a true ensemble who work off each other effortlessly and each give standout performances that bring this iconic mystery to a new audience in a way that feels theatrically invigorating and constantly engaging.

The ensemble is very strong in this show, yet it is the set design by William James Mohney that elicits gasps and awes. With fully moving train cars that move in and out, the lavish set pieces’ impress in their sheer scope and detail. The movement of these pieces from one scene to another is a theatrical marvel as they effortlessly glide along The Fulton’s added backstage wing space. Mohney’s earlier set pieces for a restauraunt scene and even a moment outside the train where passengers board are particularly eye catching.  Mohney’s set is complimented perfectly by Paul Black’s atmospheric lights that constantly excite with bright blues and at one point reds that suggest a sense of comfort and luxury to the train, always with a hint of darkness underneath. 

Also particularly noteworthy are the gorgeous costumes by Jeff Hendry. Hendry’s feather filled gowns and flashy scarfs  for Blackman’s Countess Andrenyi vividly evokes the movie starlets of the 1920s. His pieces particularly for Cella’s Princess Dragomiroff who dressed in black, instantly informs the audience of the more uptight nature of this princess. The same can be said for Anthony Lascoskie Jr.’s transformative wig and makeup design for the characters. The creative elements in this production are a grand marvel that are the perfect combination of fine design work and theatrical storytelling.

Marc Robin for this production assembles a top notch ensemble of Fulton Theatre veterans who are excellent character actors who imbue this piece with the sense of comedy and twisting melodrama that this story requires. Robin directs this play as a spectacle complete with grand set pieces and reveals. The director also isn’t afraid to embrace the comedic nature in the script by Ken Ludwig.  Even during moments of extreme tension, Robin balances it with side splitting comedic moments from Leos. These moments of lightness ease the audience into the world of this play, slowly setting them up for the twists to come. Robin’s commendable talent in managing the tonal shifts between comedy and drama is particularly impressive. His direction is fast paced and keeps the play moving with surprises throughout.

The Fulton Theatre’s production of “Murder on the Orient Express” is a nonstop thrill ride with excellent performances from a strongly assembled ensemble of actors, a grand creative design that is worth the price of admission, and a story that leaves viewers on the edge of their seats. The Fulton’s mainstage series is usually reserved for large scale musicals, yet this show is a reminder of the transporting force of a great play and its satisfaction that it can bring to its audience.