If you are a Fulton Theatre regular, you will probably be familiar with the cast members of “Murder on the Orient Express” when they take the stage tonight.
They all have appeared at the Fulton numerous times.
But the set — especially the train — well, you’ve never seen anything like it on the Fulton stage.
“We can have two things moving at the same time and new layers of depth,” says William James Mohney, the set designer for “Murder on the Orient Express.”
“It’s a new amazing world we’ve never seen before.”
Why this new amazing world?
Because the Fulton Theatre, now in the midst of a massive construction project, has a new stage right, which is big enough to hold an almost life-size train in one piece.
"‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was chosen specifically because I knew we’d get our stage right in time for the show,” says Marc Robin, executive artistic director of the Fulton.
All the new technical aspects of the renovation are in place in the main stage theater.
“With the new technology, we are going to have enormous pieces that fly into the ceiling, things traveling on the ground. It’s almost unbelievable.”
Robin notes that it is fun to watch Mohney, who has created dazzling sets for other Agatha Christie murder mysteries, including “Mousetrap” and “And Then There Were None,” able to work with new technology, movement and space.
“In the past, when you saw something moving on stage, there were people inside it,” Mohney says. “(During rehearsals) two things moved six inches apart and we were all convinced they were going to hit each other.”
The technology is precise enough that it will never happen.
“And we can tie music into automated shifts in scenes,” Robin says. “Because we know exactly how many seconds it is going to take.”
OK, having new toys is fun, as both Mohney and Robin will happily admit.
“But the audience isn’t coming to see our automated flooring system,” Robin says with a laugh. “They don’t care about our toys, they care about the play.”
And Robin says this adaptation, by York native Ken Ludwig, is a good one.
“It’s really funny. Agatha Christie can be funny, but this one is meant to be funny. There is a surprise right out of the gate,” he says.
Many people already know who done it. It’s one of Christie’s most popular mysteries, “Murder on the Orient Express” has been adapted on film a number of times, including the 2017 version starring Kenneth Branagh as detective Hercule Poirot.
“We have staged it in such a way, we are deliberately throwing focus and misdirection. You’ll doubt what you think you know,” Robin says. “And who knows, maybe this adaptation changes the ending.”
Besides, there is much more to it than solving the mystery.
“The fun part is it is so big and grand but still very intimate,” Mohney says. “We are in a confined space and focused on the cast.”
And that cast features some of the Fulton’s most popular actors, including Lauren Blackman, Jeffrey Coon, Susan Cella, Nathaniel Hackmann, Andrew Kindig, Warren Kelley, Will Ray, Chuck Ragsdale and Charis Leos.
“It’s like comfort food when you have Agatha Christie told by old friends,” Robin says.
Set in 1934, “Murder on the Orient Express” is the story of a luxury train traveling through Europe in the winter.
Hercule Poirot happens to be on the train along with a variety of wealthy people, Americans, European royalty and former servants.
The murder is discovered after the train is stopped because of excessive snow and an avalanche threat.
Can Poirot solve the mystery before another passenger is murdered?
The run of the show is being dedicated to Jane Mueller, who died on Dec. 30.
A former board president, Mueller was a tireless supporter of the Fulton.
“The opportunities she forged for us are making it possible to do the kind of work we are now doing,” Robin says.