Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Murder on the Orient Express
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of Grand Horizons

Armando Durán (center) and Cast
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The world's most opulent passenger train is trapped in a snowdrift between Sofia and Belgrade when a violent murder takes place on board. And in Agatha Christie's most famous mystery, the world's greatest detective is also trapped along with the suspects, and tasked with the job of solving the murder. Celebrated playwright Ken Ludwig adapted Murder on the Orient Express for its debut in 2017. And in 2023, Artistic Director Hana S. Sharif has mounted the whole thing like a fabulous jewel in her new production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The only mystery now is, how do you criticize a perfect show?

Michael Salvatore Commendatore is the designer of the lavish spectacle, and Tim Mackabee designed the dazzling train set, which turns the Browning Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton Center into a great railroad roundhouse, once the train is revealed revolve-by-revolve (by revolve-by-revolve, and yes, my head is still spinning). Armando Durán is 100% made for the role, elegant and ferocious by turns, as the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot.

The tale is set in the dismal off-season for tourists traveling between Istanbul and Paris. But, strangely, the whole first class section happens to be sold out in the middle of winter on a legendary vehicle suddenly crowded with an international cast of characters.

The stage version changes the pool of suspects from 12 to eight, plus a Mr. Samuel Ratchet (played with gangster-ish bravado by Joel Moses). The stage is a fraught Barbie's DreamHouse of murderous clues, interlocking alibis, and high-style distractions. Joshua David Robinson has his hands full as the off-stage dialect coach in a Baedeker's tour of European accents all-aboard.

The whole thing is (successfully) designed to trick us into a permanent state of revelation, to which we willingly succumb. The unveiling of the railcars' innards again and again, and the strange fallible staginess of the passengers all provide a steady stream of "aha!" moments. Over and over we lean forward, waiting for the next big reveal, in a two hour and fifteen minute magic act of great detective fiction. The year is 1934, right between the stock market crash and World War II. And in this case, anything can happen on a train.

Ellen Harvey is deliciously over the top as the outspoken dowager from the American Midwest, Helen Hubbard, and Janie Brookshire is the beautiful Countess Andrenyi, promoted in this version from drug addict to battlefield doctor and investigative sidekick. And Webster University ensemble member Aria Maholchic smoothly stepped in on opening night to substitute for Janie Brookshire in the role of Mary Debenham, the torn, illicit love of the married Scotsman, Colonel Arbuthnot (brave and commanding as played by Christopher Hickey). And what could be more difficult than stepping into an intensely puzzling and mechanized work like this one?

Jamil A.C. Mangan is gracious and comical as the business manager of the rail line. Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts wrote the little music flourishes, which veer dangerously between major and minor keys, and wrote the eerie sound design as well, which evokes the mad howl of winter. You'll be glad to step outside into spring again once it's all over.

There is very admirable work by Gayton Scott as the Princess Dragomiroff, and Fatima Wardak as her naive Swedish assistant. And I've gone this far, so I might as well mention all the suspects: Cameron Jamarr Davis is exactly right as Mr. Ratchet's jittery assistant Hector, and the always lovable Michael Thanh Tran is heartwarming as the faithful conductor Michel.

Clever projections and a creepy full-fledged film-short establish the "Lindbergh baby"-inspired backdrop for the hard-charging mystery to come. In the big final scene, everyone looks like they're holding the murder weapon behind their backs, ready to strike. In the midst of it all, Poirot will not be cowed or cajoled. He has never turned his back on the law before, he proclaims.

But still, his final speeches are marvels of a just man, stretched to his very limit.

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express runs through April 9, 2023, at the Loretto-Hilton center, 130 N. Edgar Rd. (on the campus of Webster University), St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit

Countess Andrenyi: Janie Brookshire*
Hector MacQueen: Cameron Jamarr Davis*
Hercule Poirot: Armando Durán*
Helen Hubbard: Ellen Harvey*
Colonel Arbuthnot: Christopher Hickey*
Mary Debenham: Margaret Ivey*/Aria Maholchic
Monsieur Bouc: Jamil A.C. Mangan*
Samuel Ratchet: Joel Moses*
Princess Dragomiroff: Gayton Scott*
Princess Dragomiroff Understudy, Helen Hubbard Understudy: Jodi Stockton
Michel the Conductor/Head Waiter: Michael Thanh Tran
Greta Ohlsson: Fatima Wardak*

Webster Ensemble:
Luka Cruz, Kyleigh Grimsbo, Aria Maholchic, Colby Willis

Cast of Film:
Father: Nicholas Freed
Mother: Mary Heyl
Nanny: Carmen Retzer
Daisy Armstrong: Imi Schneider

Production Staff
Director: Hana S. Sharif
Set Designer: Tim Mackabee
Costume Designer: Fabio Toblini
Lighting Designer: Jason Lynch
Composer/Sound Designer: Charles Coes & Nathan A. Roberts
Production Designer: Michael Salvatore Commendatore
Associate Lighting Designer: Jonah Schnell
Associate Sound Designer: Michael Costagliola
Associate Projections Designer: Chet Miller
Assistant Director: Raiyon Hunter
Dialect Coach: Joshua David Robinson
Fight Consultant: Michael Pierce
Intimacy Consultants: Will Bonfiglio & Rachel Tibbetts
Video Consultant: Lifetime Media
Casting Director: JZ Casting
Production Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit*
Assistant Stage Manager: Lorraine Fiore*
Production Assistant: Cecile Entz
Costume Shop Manager: Kristie Osi
Associate Costume Shop Manager: Erica Jo Lloyd
Head Draper: Robert Trump
Draper: Sandra Kabuye
First Hands: Sandra Kabuye, Michelle Bentley
Wig and Makeup Supervisor: Dennis Bensie

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association