Autumn with evening chill in the air and its impending dark nights is the perfect time to capture your attention to a classic intriguing murder thriller by the most read Queen of Crime and Mystery, Agatha Christie. Christie’s Estate reached out to Ken Ludwig, the prolific author of 31 plays six on Broadway and seven on London’s West End. He is also the recipient of many prestigious theater awards including two Tonys and an Edgar Award for 2012 Best Play The Game’s Afoot. He crafts this ingenious adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery into a two-hour drama and comedy. Chills and thrills are not the only offerings comedy abounds. The audience responded with laugh-out-loud enthusiasm for each comic moment. Ludwig is a genius at blending moments of tension with humor. The play first premiered at Chichester Festival in 2017 to much acclaim and now is being masterfully performed on the Drury Lane Theatre stage.
To successfully adapt this novel for the stage Ludwig has wisely whittled a dozen suspects down to eight colorful international characters on the exotic, lavish, sumptuous Orient Express. Andrew Boyce, Scenic Designer, and Casey Schillo, Properties Designer deserve special kudos for bringing to life the richness of luxury travel in the 1930s. The set design received rousing applause from the audience on the opening night each time a new scene was revealed. I have never been a witness to this type of excitement for set design before. Jessica Pabst’s costume designs captured not only the 30’s high- fashion but also reflected the unique personalities of the characters. Director Jessica Fisch succeeds in her goal with stellar designers and a phenomenal cast to build us a world transporting the audience into an epic puzzle.
As Christie’s novel was inspired by the Lindbergh kidnapping Ludwig opens the play with flashbacks relayed to us in the dark narrating a gruesome kidnapping and subsequent murder of the young child, Daisy Armstrong. She is poignantly voiced by Avelyn Choi. This immediately draws the audience into the action and foreshadows the high-stakes mystery thriller to unfold aboard the train. This is the only time Anthony Churchill’s projection design truly captured the mood and pathos of the kidnapping crime. Unfortunately, the snow scenes so crucial to the storyline twist seemed gentle, almost insipid, while other video projections were flat and uninspired.
The cast performances of Ludwig’s brilliant storytelling are impressive. Larry Yando winner of five Joseph Jefferson Awards, Wall Street Journal’s 2014 Performer of the Year, and honored by Chicago Magazine’s Best Actor gives an outstanding performance as Hercule Poirot. Yando commandingly portrays the famous Belgian detective’s intelligence, wry sense of humor, quirks, ethics, and righteous anger. Janet Ulrich Brooks a Joseph Jefferson Award Winner is Helen Hubbard, the flirtatious, dramatic, sarcastic, Midwestern divorcee. She reminded me of Blanche Devereaux in Golden Girls. Her manner and witticism were a delight to the theater guests. Diana Coates makes her Drury Lane debut and plays the young stunning Countess Andrenyi beautifully. She seems to be the least likely suspect due to her gentle manner in caring for a gunshot victim. Sean Blake is Monsieur Bouc Poirot’s good friend and host. Blake plays Monsieur Boc with great aplomb and perfect comedic timing. The character of Samuel Ratchett portrayed by Keith Kupferer plays his part with all the bluster, bravado, and villainous behavior you would expect from a criminal monster.
Drury Lane is a shimmering, stunningly, gorgeous, comfortable 971-seat theatre. There is not a bad seat in this house. It opened in 1984 and is conveniently located only 15 miles west of Downtown Chicago at the intersection of Kingery Highway, Butterfield Road, and Roosevelt Road at 100 Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace Box Office (630) 530-0111. Free ample parking is offered for 1400 cars. There is also a covered garage. Complimentary valet parking is available.
The modern, stunning, Lucille Restaurant, named after the founding owner DeSantis’s wife, is a classical American restaurant offering lunch, brunch, and prix fixe pre-theater dinners and afternoon teas. I enjoyed their fine cuisine and superior service on other occasions, however, the restaurant was closed this evening. Reservations for Lucille Restaurant can be made through OpenTable. Lucille’s features a menu to satisfy all diners. When the dining room is closed the lounge serves a limited menu a Lucille Burger, Flatbread Margherita & pepperoni pizza, and a charcuterie cheese platter.
Murder on the Orient Express at the Drury Lane Theatre is highly recommended. Single ticket prices range from $69.00-$84.00. Discounts are available for Senior Citizens on Wednesday and Thursday Matinees. Group discounts are available to groups of 15 or more. Showtimes are Wednesday and Thursday 1:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays 8:00 p.m. Saturdays 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Sundays 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Check with the Box Office for Season Subscription Information. Murder on the Orient Express is rated: PG.
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