Agatha Christie Meets Ken Ludwig in Surflight’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

Surflight Theater’s final mainstage show of the summer and fall 2022 season is Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” which opens September 28 and runs through October 9.

However, know that it is Agatha Christie with a twist. Her novel has been adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig.

According to Ludwig, he was approached by Agatha Christie Ltd., the company that manages the licensing rights for the works of the Queen of the Mystery. He even spoke to her grandson Mathew Prichard, who was running the company at the time. Prichard allowed Ludwig to choose the novel he would most like to adapt, and he chose “Murder on the Orient Express” because “it’s such a stunning mystery in so many ways.”

It’s easy to see why Ludwig chose it because “Murder on the Orient Express” has all the elements of a classic mystery. It has a famous detective, the prudish but brilliant Belgian Hercule Poirot, a dozen suspects and so many alibis and red herring that it is impossible for most readers to track down the killer before Poirot has his denouement. However, it is not set in a locked dark and gloomy British mansion, but on one of the most luxurious trains of the golden age of train travel that linked Istanbul to London, making it even more atmospheric. Another author, long before Christie, decided to feature the Orient Express in a novel – it appeared in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.

What is not easy to see at first glance is why Agatha Christie Ltd. chose Ludwig.

The prolific Ludwig – he’s written 32 shows, seven of them in London’s West End and six on Broadway – is clearly Neil Simon’s successor as America’s foremost comedic playwright thanks to hits such as “Lend Me a Tenor” which came out in 1989 and earned nine Tony’s. Award nominations and two wins, “Leading Ladies” and “Moon Over Buffalo”. He has also delved into the world of musical theatre, including writing the book for ‘Crazy for You’, which won Best Musical Tony in 1992. But comedy, actually farce, was the play that brought him fame, not the mystery. Until 2012.

Then another Ludwig game, “The Games Afoot of Holmes for the Holidays,” won an Edgar Award.

Named after Edgar Allan Poe, Edgars, presented by the Mystery Writers of America, are the genre’s most prestigious awards. But when Ludwig took the field, he didn’t reject comedy. He mixed the genres and created a tempting cocktail. “The Games Afoot” has been described as “breathtaking mystery and high hilarity in equal parts.”

“My next comedy mystery was an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ which I called ‘Baskerville,'” Ludwig said. agathachristie.com. It was a crazy play with five actors portraying more than 40 characters.

So, what can be expected from his version of “Murder on the Orient Express”? It’s easy to expect another comedy mystery; which way it tilts remains to be seen.

Ludwig made some changes to fit the novel’s basic plot into a two-hour show. He has reduced the number of suspects to eight. And he certainly added his own touches.

When Ms. Hubbard, the boisterous and boisterous American who was married five times, meets another character on the train, she says, “You know, you remind me of one of my husbands.” “Which?” he responds. “The next one,” she replies without missing a beat.

Ludwig likes to make inside jokes. Here’s one from “Murder on the Orient Express”:

A suspect does not like it at all when he is told that Poirot wants to interrogate his lover. ‘Well, I don’t like it! Do you understand? And you can put that in your meerschaum pipe and smoke it!” A friend of the detective jumps in – “That’s Sherlock Holmes.” Remember, Ludwig wrote “The Games Afoot” and “Baskerville,” so he not only made a joke that confuses many fictional detectives, but also suggested that the actor had accidentally ended up in another Ludwig game.

Reviewer Bill Hirschman, writing for Florida Theater on stagewarned readers: “Don’t go to the Actors’ Playhouse stage production of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ in anticipation of the grim locked-room mystery at the heart of movies starring Albert Finney or Kenneth Branagh, or even Agatha Christie’s gravitas.” yourself. “

On the other hand, Hirschman later wrote, “The plot remains rooted in Christie’s brilliant, albeit complex and impossibly intricate revenge story, written in 1934 and turned into radio plays, television editions, Sidney Lumet’s 1972 film, and Branagh’s 2017 cinema outing, both from with a touch of humor about the picky attitude of detective Hercule Poirot and the hauteur of the aristocrats.”

By the way, both Christie’s and Ludwig’s “Murder on the Orient Express” have connections in New Jersey.

Christie based her novel’s roots on the infamous 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping case, when the famous aviator’s 20-month-old son was snatched from his second-floor bedroom thanks to a ladder and an open window. The child was murdered despite Lindbergh paying the ransom and in the days before Charles Manson and OJ Simpson it was the crime of the century. Christie changed Lindbergh’s names to Armstrong and turned the boy into a girl, but left the incident that caused the murder on the train in America. Readers on both sides of the Atlantic who kept up with the news were able to connect the dots.

As for Ludwig, he wrote a show designed for high school groups called ‘Midsummer/Jersey’. It had been described as a “Shakespeare-meets-Snooki mash-up.” And his “Baskerville” premiered at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, as did his “Murder on the Orient Express.” Both have been produced many times across the country and the world. Now the latter returns to New Jersey, thanks to Surflight.

Comedy mystery or mystery comedy? Does it matter? When you combine the talents of Christie, the queen of mystery of all time, and Ludwig, the current king of comedy, you have to realize that something special is going on.

Visit surflight.com to find the exact dates and times of the upcoming production of “Murder on the Orient Express” and to purchase tickets, which are $41 for adults and $31 for children 12 and under. They can also be purchased by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the box office in Beach Haven.

Rick Mellerup

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