“The Da Vinci Code” in 2022 at Churchill Theatre in Bromley in the United Kingdom. Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse.

When Rachel Wagstaff first read “The Da Vinci Code” years ago, she was so engrossed in the novel that she missed her stop on the train.

It had never happened before with any other book and has not happened since. As a playwright, she has adapted other stories for the stage. She and fellow writer Duncan Abel worked together on a theatrical adaptation of “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins that premiered in the United Kingdom in 2019, and when their producer asked them what they wanted to do next, she knew she wanted to suggest Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller.

“You cannot stop turning those pages,” said Wagstaff, who is based in London. “You absolutely have to find out, don’t you? You’re on the edge of your seat the whole time. What’s going to happen?”

Wagstaff and Abel partnered again on the project, and “The Da Vinci Code” premiered in the United Kingdom in 2022. Now, the Ogunquit Playhouse will be the first American theater to present the play, which opens there this week.

The mystery begins with the murder of the curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris. Professor Robert Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu must solve a series of baffling clues alongside his body to preserve a shocking historical secret. The book received criticism when it published in 2003 for its depiction of Christianity but has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks in 2006.

Brad Kenney, artistic director at the playhouse, said even those familiar with the story will have a new experience in the theater.


“You, for the first time in your life, are going to be able to be in the room with Robert Langdon as he figures it out,” said Kenney. “Theater is the only way you can do that.”

Dan Brown, the best-selling author of “The Da Vinci Code” Photo by Dan Courter, courtesy of author Dan Brown

The playhouse is also not far from where Brown, who is originally from Exeter, New Hampshire, lives on the seacoast. In an interview, he said he has attended other productions in Ogunquit and found it a fitting venue for the play’s American debut because it feels local to him. Brown said he read scripts and provided input along the way, but he was not heavily involved in the adaptation and trusted the playwrights.

Brown has seen tapes and rehearsals, but his first full viewing will be in Maine. He planned to see a performance in Scotland last year, but the tour ended early because of the impacts of COVID-19.

“It’s a very high-tech production that will startle people in a wonderful way, especially if they haven’t been to the theater in a while,” he said.

“The Da Vinci Code” in 2022 at Churchill Theatre in Bromley in the United Kingdom. Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse

The author said he was impressed with the adaptation that turned his expansive novel into “a tight, incredibly exciting stage play.”

“They’ve presented and accentuated the heartbeat of the story without losing the themes of codes and the sacred feminine and Christianity and art,” Brown said.


To Wagstaff and Abel, that heartbeat was not the mystery itself. It was the grief felt by Neveu, who is revealed to be the murdered curator’s granddaughter.

“What really made it so special and important to me was that it’s a very beautiful story about grief,” said Wagstaff. “It’s a woman dealing with incredible loss and sadness, and we all understand what it is to lose someone dear to us, and those questions and the things you didn’t get to say to them. And the way Sophie loses her grandfather is so bizarre and shocking. So it’s really this combination of this thrilling adventure with this beautiful, emotional, universal heartbeat underneath it.”

But the mystery was important to the story, of course. It was also challenging to convey on stage, especially in a roughly two-hour runtime. Wagstaff and Abel said they had to figure out how to show the audience the thought process Langdon and Neveu use to solve the puzzles they encounter on their journey. One strategy is to use projections designed by Andrzej Goulding, who won the Tony Award this year with Tim Hatley for best scenic design of a play for their work on “Life of Pi.” Those images will show numbers, letters or images so the audience can visualize the clues alongside the characters.

“When you read the novel, you find yourself wanting to look up a lot of the pictures, because Landon will be pointing something out within a painting, for example, the Mona Lisa, which is a painting you think you know,” said Abel. “He’ll describe something within it, and you want to see it. You’ll find yourself Googling an image of the Mona Lisa to have alongside you as you read the novel. And what’s cool about having it on stage is you can see it there.”

Kenney described the play as “a contemporary, visceral, multimedia production.”

“It’s not the film, it’s not the book,” Kenney said. “It’s the story that you know, but now brought to life very theatrically.”


“The Da Vinci Code” in 2022 at Churchill Theatre in Bromley in the United Kingdom. Photo by Johan Persson, courtesy of Ogunquit Playhouse.

To Michael Urie, the actor who will play Langdon and whose credits include the TV show “Ugly Betty,” the projections aid in the portrayal of a cerebral character. Urie said he has been working in rehearsals to pinpoint what Langdon knows and doesn’t know at every point in the story, so his discoveries along the way feel authentic to the audience.

“I love thinking on stage,” he said. “It’s so much fun to play the thought process and discoveries. There’s so many ‘aha’ moments as they are uncovering clues.”

Urie is based in New York City, and “The Da Vinci Code” will be his first appearance in Ogunquit. He said he is excited to see how the audience responds to the play’s twists and turns.

“There’s always a moment that I remember that the audience doesn’t know what they’re coming into, even if they’ve read the book or seen the movie,” he said. “We spent weeks making the play and we forget what’s surprising because we’re not surprised by anything anymore. … It’s going to be so exciting to learn when they learn.”

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