Judson Theater to Stage 'Witness for the Prosecution'

Before “Law & Order,” “Chicago PD,” “Murder She Wrote” or anyone else there was Agatha Christie: Miss Marple and her homey intuition, Hercule Poirot and his “little grey cells” and the genius barrister Sir Wilfred Robarts defending Leonard Vole in a murder trial, against the testimony of his wife, who scandalously appears as a “witness for the prosecution.”

“Witness for the Prosecution” is being presented by the Judson Theatre Company as the finale of its eighth season Nov. 21-24. The stunning testimony and high stakes passion are the backbone of this original short-story-turned-play. There’s a reason Christie remains the world’s best-selling author and the most successful female playwright of all time: She knew how to play hide and seek right in front of the audience. And “Witness” has come forward again in the collective public memory; there was a BBC-TV adaptation in 2016, and the play is currently enjoying a hit site-specific revival in a real courtroom in London.

Judson, our own professional theatre since 2012, returns to the newly renovated Owens Auditorium at Bradshaw Performing Arts Center At Sandhills Community College with this gem of a courtroom mystery. Once again Judson has lured some terrific professional actors from as far away as New Zealand — Tim Garner, whom many of you will remember from JTC’s last Agatha Christie production, “And Then There Were None,” in 2017 — I am guessing he had already moved to New York, but nonetheless!

The coveted role of Sir Wilfrid Robarts will be played by Alan Campbell, a Tony nominee for his performance of Joe Gillis in “Sunset Boulevard” on Broadway, where he also appeared as Sam in “Mamma Mia!” His extensive TV resume includes five seasons on “Jake and the Fatman” with William Conrad, “Law & Order,” “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” among many more.

Campbell is far from alone on this new stage; he is joined by a cast of experienced professional actors from New York, Hollywood and North Carolina. The choice role of the classic “wrong man” Leonard Vole is being portrayed by young James Cella. Having been in JTC’s “Twelve Angry Men” in 2016, he is no stranger to our area and was lured back to the Sandhills with this juicy role.

To complete the large cast required by “Witness for the Prosecution,” there are also a number of Moore County-based actors in the production, all with professional training and most of them have theater degrees.

I should own up to being a big booster for this company, and I have to add that I have performed twice with Judson. (I mention this to be transparent about my bias.)

Executive producer Morgan Sills and artistic director Daniel Haley have been building a regional and national reputation for their company that gets actors who never heard of the Sandhills to come down and even return to do classic plays that are both entertaining and thoughtful.

Time and again, Judson has shown a firm commitment to our community as well, going into the public high schools when the show is appropriate, providing not only books or scripts but talking about how theater works, how the author pulls on literature and life to make the play come into being.

JTC will be doing a daytime performance of “Witness for the Prosecution” for 600 students from all three Moore County public high schools. Students see the show and get a Q&A with the actors; 600 copies of the Agatha Christie book and a study guide are donated to Moore County Schools for classroom study. Thanks to the generosity of their donors, JTC pays for all of this, plus the transportation and the substitute teachers too, to make it all free for MCS and the students.

Further, select local high school/college age students who are serious about theater are chosen for paid student internships. They receive professional experience to build their resumes as they go on to major or minor in theater. Actors from “Witness for the Prosecution” will go into local high school theater classes and senior residence facilities while they are here for workshops.

JTC also invites groups from at-risk populations to their dress rehearsals so they can experience the thrill of live theater in a safe and protected environment.

JTC provides discounted tickets to military, students and groups. They also offer subscription packages if you want to save a little and pick up tickets to their spring production, Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple” (female version).

If you like a good courtroom mystery by perhaps the greatest mystery writer both in book and play form, this is for you. Christie considered “Witness for the Prosecution,” with its classic “wrong man” plot and quadruple-twist ending, to be the masterpiece of her works for the theater.

“Witness for the Prosecution” runs from Nov. 21-24. The opening night, Nov. 21, has an early curtain at 7 p.m. All other evening performances are at 8 p.m. There are two matinees, Saturday at 2 p.m., and the closing performance on Sunday, at 3 p.m.

The cast announcement right after Labor Day has spurred strong ticket sales. It is not too soon to get a group of friends together and snag your tickets for what promises to be a wonderful time. As the sun sets earlier in the day and a chill begins to nip the air, could it be a better time for a murder, deception and maybe a shriek in the dark?

You can get tickets at judsontheatre.com. I have mine already.

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