Murder On The Orient Express at Milwaukee Rep. Pay Attention Or They’ll Have You Going Around In Circles.

In the last few days, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater proved that Milwaukee’s appetite for Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot remains unsatisfied. And they do it with a masterful presentation of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express. And despite our previous experiences around Christie and Poirot, we will once again be mesmerized.

Working with one of their larger casts of the season and an amazing set, Hercule Poirot sorts out eight suspects in a very strange murder in something of a byzantine plot and setting…on a famous train stranded temporarily by snow in the Yugoslav mountains.

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater : photographer Michael Brosilow

We open by meeting Hercule Poirot, ably played by Steven Rattazzi, who lives up to all of our expectations for a proper Poirot. And this first little prelude lets us in on the fact that he found this to be a very puzzling and difficult case and leading on that what we are about to see is a re-enactment and not real time (of course how could 1934 be real time). But we will forget that little factoid until he returns to center stage for the postlude.

But then we quickly transition to the story and meet our cast of train passengers and eventual suspects in the hotel restaurant, where everyone is having their pre-boarding meals. And where we get inklings of the tensions the characters are feeling…hint…hint…hint.

And so the fun starts as our cast of suspects board the train, create new clues, expose foibles, quirks, and character traits. And we get to meet Michel, the conductor of the first class car. And of course the acting has to be over the top and our characters’ eccentricities and ethnic/cultural backgrounds come to the fore! And director Annika Boras keenly choreographs their relationships and interactions to accent all of those eccentricities to the hilt. ..to say nothing of keeping them in the right set as they move through the set and the set seemingly moves through them.

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater : photographer Michael Brosilow

So our cast and characters: Diana Coates as the Countess Andrenyi who also happens to be a physician, Emjoy Gavino as Mary Debanham, an attractive young English woman in love with Col. Arbuthnot, and of course the good colonel played by Jonathan Wainwright as a retired Scottish army hero. And then Greta Ohlsson played by Park Krausen, an overzealous missionary who is currently travelling as Princess Dragomoff’s assistant. And the Princess? She is a Russian royal in exile following the Russian Revolution and played with snooty aplomb by Barbara Robertson. And Helen Hubbard, even in this retelling comes off as a phony and overtop Midwestern drama queen, played by Gail Rastorfer. And who’s left? Well, Will Mobley playing Hector MacQueen as the secretary to American businessman Samuel Ratchett…who is also played by Mr. Wainwright. And our trustworthy eager to please, long time railroad employee and classic Parisian, Michel, our conductor played by Adam Poss! And finally Monsieur Bouc, Belgian manager of the rail company that runs the Orient Express, and personal friend of Poirot…and the only character without a first name…is played by Gregory Livingston.

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater : photographer Michael Brosilow

So with this diverse crew, how does one find the murderer? And as you will see, with all of the divergent clues, how does one find the murderer? I won’t give away which unfortunate becomes the deceased but as you watch the play unfold, you will either guess or be unsurprised. So, I’ll leave further discussion here except for this excerpt from the play guide:

With snow coming down, the passengers trapped, and a murderer on the loose, it is up to the intrepid Detective Poirot to solve the case of the Murder on the Orient Express.

But there is one more character that is vital to this play that we mustn’t overlook. And that is the incredible set the moves us through the various locales of our play. This is certainly the most complex and enjoyable set this side of the classic set for the Rep’s Christmas Carol. So that is why I warned you to pay attention…because the set revolves us from external views of the first class car to interiors of the dining car or the suites/bedrooms or the walkways at the end of the car. It is amazing to anticipate the next scene and interactions as you watch the turntable turn our world inside out and back again. So once more, hats off to director Annika Boras for keeping all of the characters moving in the ‘right direction’ as the world turns!

courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater : photographer Michael Brosilow

[editor’s note : June 11, 2022] How did I overlook the most important part of a murder mystery…the denouement…when the detective provides us with the clues in the plot line and ‘discovers’ the murderer! So of course you see this very play resolution in the preceding photograph…as Hercule Poirot tells us the final story of the story! And this was truly a spectacular moment for the entire cast, director Annika Boras, and lighting designer Noele Stollmack. As Poirot recounts his thought process, the cast freezes and the spotlight focuses on that one particular suspect as they reprise their lines that became part of the great clue(s)! Well done one and all.

Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express continues at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from now until July 1, 2022 in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater. It is recommended for viewers 12 years old and up. Ticket information can be found here.

Extra Credit Reading: PlayGuide! Program!

And I think that’s a fake mustache (after you see the play, you’ll understand! LOL!)

PSA: Titanic The Musical Returns to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater This Fall!

From the morning’s email inbox!

As you may have read, we recently had to cancel 15 sold-out performances of Titanic The Musical due to break-through cases of COVID-19 within the cast and crew.

Although we take extensive measures to ensure we can continue to perform safely including testing frequently and engaging increased numbers of understudies, we unfortunately had a breakout affecting the majority of the cast. Luckily for us, as seems to be the case with the vast majority of people during this current spike, our cases appear to be relatively short-lived and mild.

We know how much our audiences looked forward to seeing this magnificent production, which was one of the finest of my career and garnered unanimous rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Nearly 10,000 tickets went to waste and we heard from many of you about how disappointed you were when we had to cancel.

As we never want to disappoint, I’m pleased to share that we will be bringing Titanic The Musical back this fall for a limited five-week run!

This extraordinary company of artists cannot wait to return to finish this epic journey with you. With the addition of Titanic to the fall schedule, we will be postponing our previously planned production of Ragtime to a future season.

Tickets for Titanic are currently only available to our 2022/23 Subscribers. If you wish to secure your tickets to Titanic now, please contact our Ticket Office at 414-224-9490 about Season Ticket packages – we have options for every budget. Otherwise individual tickets for Titanic will go on sale later this summer.

We anticipate our phones will be very busy with questions, so we please ask for your patience as our Ticket Office staff does their best to get through as many calls as fast as possible.

Thank you for your incredible support and continued generosity for Milwaukee Rep,

Mark Clements,

Artistic Director


COVID Cases Cause Cancellation of Remaining “Titanic” Performances at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

From my social media feeds this afternoon:

As a result of breakthrough COVID-19 cases within the cast, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the remaining performances of “Titanic The Musical.” Even with understudies and swings, given the number of people that have tested positive, we no longer have enough performers to stage the show. Due to artist availability, we are unable to extend the production. We know this is deeply disappointing news not only for our patrons but for the hundreds of Rep employees that have worked so hard on this production.

All “Titanic” tickets for performances this week will be automatically refunded. If you have any questions please contact the Ticket Office at tickets@milwaukeerep.com or 414-224-9490. Thank you for understanding.