In Fort Collins, a talented ensemble casts provides laughs and suspense as the audience discovers whodunit

You probably know the classic book, perhaps the play, or the two movie renditions of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Now you can see it live with the Open Stage Theatre and Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s adaptation through Nov 27 at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center. Be prepared for a fast-paced ride on the Orient Express as the Magnolia stage is transformed into a luxury train car complete with berths and a fancy cocktail lounge.

When American passenger Samuel Ratchett (Caleb Gilbert) is found stabbed to death in his berth, famous detective Hercule Poirot (David Astin-Gröen) must figure out whodunit in order to save his friend, Monsieur Bouc’s (Akolotu Moeloa) job as the director of the train company (and, of course, to find justice.) Every character gets their chance to shine as each is called into question by Poirot. We learn that each has their own reason to want Ratchett dead. It appears that Ratchett is not who he seems, and we soon discover that he is responsible for a terrible crime committed back in the U.S.

With the train stuck in a snowstorm, Poirot has plenty of time to interrogate the passengers, as they are, of course, the only suspects. There’s elderly Princess Dragomiroff (Judith Allen) accompanied by her missionary wannabe assistant Greta Ohlsson (Elizabeth Baugh). The two offer lots of laughs as they tolerate one another’s eccentricities.

There’s rich, flirty American Helen Hubbard (Jessica Emerling Crow) who’s keen to chat up Michel the conductor (Dan Tschirhart), Poirot, or really any man she passes. There’s secretary to Ratchett, Hector MacQueen (Ryan Wilke-Braun) who’s quite preoccupied with a handful of threat letters sent to his boss. There’s Colonel Arbuthnot (Andrew Cole) and Mary Debenham (Jessica MacMaster) who may or may not be traveling together, and Countess Andrenyi (Teal Jandrain) who somehow has medical training which ends up coming in very handy as murder and injuries aboard the Orient Express begin piling up.

With this cast of characters who may or may not be exactly who they say they are, Poirot has his hands full determining who did it and why. The play moves quickly all the while the clock is ticking as the conductor gets word that help, in the form of the Yugoslavian police, is coming. To save his friend’s job and the Orient Express’ reputation, Poirot must solve the murder before the police get there.

There are perfectly timed blackouts during which we hear shrieks or sobs adding to the suspense throughout the play. When the lights come back on, the players are inevitably in different places and a new mystery is ready to be solved. Aboard the stationary train, each character claims their innocence even amid their ever-increasing suspicion.

With passengers from all over the world, varying accents were plentiful and well done, especially that of Poirot, who may or may not be Belgian. He commands the stage with his low-key charm and wit. Characters were dressed in the beautiful clothing of 1930s first-class train passengers each unique to his or her status. Ornate hats and elegant dresses were plentiful. The detail on the train car was impressive with doors that opened and closed for the berths, gorgeous chairs and tables in the lounge and even a lowered corridor on the outside to give it the appearance of a real train car.

Having read the book and seen the newest version of the movie, I knew who did it. But that didn’t take away from the fun on stage as the characters professed their innocence and cast doubt on one another. There was a subtle humor throughout as the audience discovers the true killer.