LOWELL -- Dame Agatha Christie and the Marx Brothers all meet -- at least as influences -- on stage for the Merrimack Repertory Theatre's latest production, "Murder for Two."
The backdrop of this zany, energetic and highly physical musical-comedy is a gabled-country house, a surprise party and the murder of the guest of honor. As a Christie novel requires, all the guests have secrets that might give motive for murder. That is, except, perhaps, for one of them.
"Murder for Two" is aptly named. It stars Martin Landry as Marcus, the ambitious but easily distracted police officer, and Joe Kinosian, who plays all the suspects in turn as the investigation progresses.
Kinosian, who co-created this musical-comedy with Kellen Blair, is highly accomplished at delivering physical comedy. He morphs with precision, giving distinct voice and movement to each suspect he portrays. These roles include the somewhat merry widow, her niece from the city, a prima ballerina, a very eccentric psychiatrist, a squabbling married couple, and a 12-member boys' choir that, oddly, has only three members.
Police Officer Marcus arrives on the scene, hoping that by solving the crime he will receive a coveted promotion. Marcus converses throughout the play about his ambition with an unseen and unheard fellow police officer named Lou.
Kinosian's merry widow generates immediate suspicion as she sings "A Perfect Lovely Surprise" to Landry's piano playing. The niece and the prima ballerina alternately flirt with and confuse Marcus, and the psychiatrist is unveiled as a creep.
Kinosian's timing is superb as he pirouettes, lunges and stumbles on the stage. He seems also to be one of those comedic talents -- Rowan Atkinson comes to mind -- who can use his face as silly putty.
"Murder for Two" has been performed in regional theaters and off-Broadway, often with Kinosian and Landry as the stars.
Kinosian collaborated with Blair in writing the book, and Blair then wrote the lyrics. Kinosian is a self-described fan of murder mysteries and says, "When Kellen and I first came up with the idea for 'Murder for Two,' we framed it as, 'What if the Marx Brothers put on an Agatha Christie story?'"
The answer to that what-if is a truly funny evening of music, dance and comedy. The Marx Brothers and Dame Agatha would likely enjoy themselves very much.
'Murder for Two' continues at MRT through Nov. 11.