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Review: 'Murder on the Orient Express' at the Omaha Playhouse is a thrill ride

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It doesn’t really matter if you know the plot — and the outcome — of “Murder on the Orient Express.” As it is on most train trips, the excitement is in the journey’s twists and turns.

There’s plenty of fun — and suspense — in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s new production of the play, onstage through Oct. 10. Writer Ken Ludwig hewed closely to Agatha Christie’s original intent in his adaptation of her novel, and the result moves at a fast pace with moments of comic relief.

A popular whodunit that has been made into a couple of movies, the story centers on Christie’s most famous (and supremely self-assured) detective, Hercule Poirot (Playhouse newcomer Seth Maisel) and his efforts to solve a murder on a luxurious train traveling from Istanbul to Paris in the late 1930s.

A recent kidnapping provides some juicy clues along the way, so pay attention.

Plenty of people aboard have a motive, and, even though I saw the 1974 movie a long time ago, the ending still surprised me. My friend, a murder mystery junkie, knew the story well and loved the Playhouse version.

It’s instantly evident how much Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek’s cast invested in each of the distinct characters (most of them suspects).

A few standouts:

Roz Parr as scared-by-her-own-shadow Greta Ohlsson, a nanny by trade who was traveling as an aide to the elderly Princess Dragomiroff.

Daena Schweiger as the crabby and crotchety aforementioned princess.

Jennifer Gilg as self-assured Countess Andrenyi, a physician who’s traveling without her husband and assists Poirot at crime scenes aboard the train.

Maisel, portraying Poirot just broadly enough to keep him from being a caricature.

And Connie Lee as the brassy and much-married Helen Hubbard. The larger-than-life character gave Lee a chance to show off her considerable knack for comedy. She deserves a special shoutout for performing without a hitch on what appeared to be an injured ankle.

Actually, the rest of the cast also deserves mention: Adam Bassing, Ethan Dragon, Billy Ferguson, Olivia Howard, Brian Priesman, Brennan Thomas and Jay Srygley. Each played a role in the play’s success.

Jim Othuse’s versatile set — with lots of moving pieces — was almost like another cast member. Impressively, it morphs seamlessly into a train station, passenger berths, a hotel dining room and other locales.

It had enough going on that frequent set changes could have slowed down the show. But that definitely wasn’t the case; credit Othuse’s design and a crackerjack backstage crew.

Musician Justin Payne’s compositions also added to the mysterious setting.

You could definitely take your kids to this show; if there’s any bad language, I missed it, and any romance is rated G.

The Playhouse, like other venues, requires masks covering your nose and mouth at all times.

That’s a small price to pay for the return of live theater and the privilege of seeing such a great production. Remember that when you’re tempted to remove your mask when the lights go down. You know who you are.


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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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