Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" is an actor's dream.
Its many iterations, including two movies and at least one for TV, have attracted names such as Kenneth Branagh, Jessica Chastain, Ingrid Bergman, Penélope Cruz, Olivia Colman, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery and Judi Dench. And that's just the Oscar winners who have appeared in "Orient Express," in which a rude industrialist is stabbed to death on a stalled train whose occupants seem disinclined to mourn him.
That means the 10 actors in the Guthrie Theater's "Orient Express," which opens Friday, have big shoes to fill. Fancy shoes, too.
Virtually all the characters in the drama — which takes place in the 1930s on a ritzy, snowbound train and that was loosely inspired by the aftermath of the kidnapping of Minnesota native Charles Lindbergh's infant — are wealthy. And virtually every role is juicy since, other than detective Hercule Poirot, most of the characters must make an indelible impression in just a couple of scenes.
Here's who's who, and who's been who:
The Detective: Hercule Poirot
In Christie's novels, vain Poirot always considers himself the most important character but he's right in this case, since he's the only one who interacts with everyone else. A flashy Belgian with a huge, meticulously groomed mustache, the character attracts actors who enjoy going big, such as David Suchet (who played him in the 2010 PBS version and the "Poirot" series), Albert Finney (an Oscar nominee for his 1974 performance) and Kenneth Branagh, who starred in and directed the 2017 remake. Andrew May makes his Guthrie debut as Poirot but local theater audiences may remember him in the tour of "War Horse," in which the Star Tribune pronounced his performance "gorgeous."
The Grande Dame: Princess Dragomiroff
It's a part that attracts dames, as in Dame Wendy Hiller and Dame Judi Dench. Hiller had more fun with the role of a wealthy royal, traveling with a hen-pecked companion and so above the rest of the shenanigans on the train that she barely expends the effort required to move her mouth when she speaks. Dench's was a more emotional portrayal, as was (Dame, natch) Eileen Atkins' in the 2010 PBS version. Chanhassen Dinner Theatres regular Michelle Barber — decades younger than those women and, as an American, not eligible to be a dame — tackles the role at the Guthrie.
The Widow: Helen Hubbard
One of the most shadowy characters, and the one who seems most interested in assisting Poirot, is Helen Hubbard. Christie depicted Hubbard as dithery and foolish but she's sturdier and more in-control in the movie versions, in which she's played by Lauren Bacall and Michelle Pfeiffer (renamed Caroline Hubbard). Twin Cities favorite Sally Wingert, fresh off multiple roles in "Hello, Dolly" at Theater Latté Da, plays Hubbard at the Guthrie.
The Missionary: Greta Ohlsson
Paul Dehn was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for the 1974 "Murder" but much of the dialogue comes straight from Christie's book. That's especially true for the role of Ohlsson, a Swedish missionary who is so over-the-top pious and timid that she can seem hilarious. When Bergman played the missionary, the movie kept Christie's original name but she became Pilar Estravados when Penélope Cruz slouched into her drab cardigans in Branagh's version. As Poirot investigates, the missionary — played by Jane Froiland at the Guthrie — seems to be helpful. But is she, really?
The Live Wire: Hector MacQueen
No matter whom he played, Anthony Perkins pretty much always seemed like he was covering up a murder, so he's perfect for the unnervingly jumpy secretary to the dead man in the 1974 film. Josh Gad was less instantly suspicious in the remake but Tyler Michaels King's coiled energy seems like a great fit in the Guthrie staging.
The Caregiver: Mary Debenham
If you're using the least-likely-suspect-is-probably-the-one-who-did-it method of guessing whodunit, you might gravitate toward earnest, demure Mary, played by Vanessa Redgrave in the 1974 movie and Daisy Ridley in the remake. China Brickey, most recently seen in Latté Da's "Hello, Dolly," will play the passenger, a governess whose meaningful looks with a fellow traveler suggest there's more to their story than they reveal.
The Gentleman: Colonel Arbuthnot
Dashing Arbuthnot — played by Sean Connery in 1974 and Leslie Odom Jr. in 2017 (although he's suddenly a doctor instead of a colonel) — is one of those people who always seems to know the right thing to say. Played by Peter Christian Hansen in the play, where he's back to being a colonel, he's protective of Mary and eager to figure out what's wrong when the train gets stuck, with a corpse on board and a First Class crammed with suspects. (Busy Hansen also plays the murder victim.)
'Murder on the Orient Express'
Who: By Ken Ludwig, adapted from Agatha Christie's novel. Directed by Risa Brainin.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun. Ends July 2.
Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.
Protocol: Masks required on June 4.
Tickets: $20-$79, 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org.