Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express
Asolo Repertory Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of The Book of Mormon and Handle with Care

James DeVita
Photo by Cliff Roles
Asolo Repertory is pulling out all the bells, whistles, and a whole train full of art deco-ish lavishness for its hugely entertaining production of Ken Ludwig's adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. The original novel has already been filmed twice, in 1974 and 2017, so the question of why it needs to become a stage production might be asked, but Christie remains popular long after her death in 1976 and sometimes shear entertainment is its own reward.

Ludwig's thoroughly professional adaptation sticks closely to the Christie blueprint: a group of seemingly unrelated characters are thrown together in a setting they can't easily escape, with an added dash of mayhem, usually a murder, and a brilliant crime solver, this time Christie favorite Hercule Poirot. The story is one of Christie's best, offering a provocative ending in which our hero is left unsure of himself.

The production shows off Asolo Rep's technical resources, theatrical and true to the period. The various locations within the train spinning on and off garnered deserved applause from the opening night audience, the brilliant creations of Paul Tate Depoo III. Costumes by Tracy Dorman are equally brilliant, but less attention getting. Lighting design by Jay Messenger, sound design by Matt Parker, and wigs and make-up design by the always overachieving Michelle Hart contribute to the overall excellence. Projections and film clips make this a multimedia bonanza. Murder on the Orient Express is a reminder of how theater can delight the eyes and the ears.

The cast is an ensemble except for James DeVita as Poirot. To my imagination, DeVita is the perfect Belgian detective as envisioned by Ms. Christie: small in stature; able to appear a bit bookish; brilliant without the trappings of that status. Other standouts include David Breitbarth as railroad manager Monsieur Bouc, Peggy Roeder as Princess Dragomiroff, Tina Stafford as Midwesterner Helen Hubbard, and Diana Coates as Countess Andrenyi, although everyone is almost equally fine in their roles. Joe Ferrarelli, Michael Judah and Brian Ritchie are third-year Asolo Conservatory students featured in minor roles.

Director Peter Amster is best known for comedy, and the tight ensemble-playing is a testament to his skills.

I doubt this production of could be thought of as high art, but it sure is a heck of a fun ride on the fabled train. Get your tickets now, because when word of mouth hits the streets they are going to be hard to come by.

Murder on the Orient Express runs through March 8, 2020, at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Mertz Theatre, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For information and tickets, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit

Cast (in order of Appearance):
Daisy Armstrong: Cora Messer
Hercule Poirot: James DeVita*
Marcel, Headwaiter: Joe Ferrarelli
Colonel Arbuthnot: Jonathan Grunert
Mary Debenham: Helen Joo Lee*
Helen Hubbard: Tina Stafford*
Hector MacQueen: Grant Chapman*
Monsieur Bouc: David Breitbarth*
Princess Dragomiroff: Peggy Roeder*
Greta Ohlsson: Alex Pelletier
Michel, the Conductor: Gregg Weiner*
Samuel Ratchett: Matt DeCaro
Countess Andrenyi: Diana Coates*
Jacques: Michael Judah^
Mr. Mallowan: Brian Ritchie
Miss Westmacott: Carla Corvo**
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association
^=Fight Captain
**=Appears Courtesy of Actors' Equity Association