Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2019

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Shear Madness’: Show’s script only its start

Cast’s improvisations make comedy murder mystery fresh daily

Shear Madness

Sam Morris

Stylists Enoch Augustus Scott, left, and Mindy Woodhead rehearse a scene from “Shear Madness.” In the show, set in the “shadow of the Stratosphere,” the actors react to the audience, choosing from among memorized options that take the story in different directions.

If You Go

  • What: “Shear Madness,” interactive comedy murder mystery
  • When: 7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, dark Monday
  • Where: Shear Madness Theater, Town Square, across from the Yard House restaurant
  • Admission: $42.95-$79.95 (front row love seats), plus limited number of $20 seats available day of show only; 949-6123,
  • Running time: About two hours with intermission
  • Audience advisory: Voluntary audience participation; lobby bar awaiting liquor license

Sun Blogs

“What’s going on in there?” this guy asked me as I was making my way out of the Shear Madness Theater and into the buzzy Friday night cross traffic at the Town Square shopping center.

“Um, it’s an interactive comedy murder mystery,” I ventured, trying to briefly describe the unique show I had just seen.

My answer didn’t seem to enlighten the guy, as he turned to the next person leaving the theater and asked the same question.

What’s going on in there: Fast, frisky and frantically, antically funny, “Shear Madness” may just be the long-searched-for bridge between the Strip and the Las Vegas we live in, perfectly positioned to attract both tourists and locals.

“Madness” establishes its intended tone — loud, casual, more a party than a play — well before the show even begins. Entering the spiffy new theater, you find the action already in progress: The proprietors of a pastel-hued beauty parlor are bustling about their business, shampooing a customer, answering the phone, gossiping, all to a blaring soundtrack of high-energy oldies. (Get to the show a little early and leave yourself time to settle in and catch the goings-on — there will be a quiz.)

When the house lights go down, we’re in the Shear Madness salon “in the shadow of the Stratosphere,” staffed by Tony, an effusively old-school gay hairstylist, who considers himself not so much a stereotype as “a prototype.” Tony’s partner is sleek, gum-snapping stylist Barbara DeMarco, who sets to work on Eleanor McCarran Schubert, a socialite who has dashed in for a rinse-and-set before leaving for Bermuda.

Suddenly we learn that there’s been a murder above the shop: An eccentric, long-retired concert pianist has been stabbed to death — with a pair of scissors. The salon becomes a locked-down crime scene and the show becomes a reenactment and interrogation, as the cops question the squabbling characters.

When the audience finally gets to ask the questions and the motives and mysteries unravel, it’s like a rowdy live-action game of “Clue,” booby-trapped with surprises and turnarounds. No one, certainly, is who he or she seems.

“Madness” plays fast and loose, but it’s really a tight combination of scripted farce and improv comedy, with the six actors working from a memorized text of possible variations as big as the phone book.

Ingenious in its cheerful dumbness, the “Shear” script is sheer silliness, a rowdy pileup of sight gags, malapropisms and tossed-off jests. Nearly every joke is a setup for a local reference, and the victims so far include CityCenter, Super Summer Theater, Twitter and inescapable personal injury attorney Glen Lerner.

And, of course, Vegas’ favorite punch line, poor ol’ Criss Angel.

One of the secrets of “Shear” is that it’s different every time, rewarding, even demanding, repeat visits. The audience votes each night on whom they suspect, and that’s the way the cast plays out the denouement that night.

The six performers aren’t so much conventional actors as improv comics, sketching broad characters while thinking on their feet and drawing in the audience.

Playing Tony is Vegas resident Enoch Augustus Scott, one of the few cast members who hasn’t done a previous stint with “SM,” but he fits right in, sassing the characters and the crowd like a junior Nathan Lane, gesturing with comic carelessness while wielding a straight razor or a handful of shaving foam.

As Barbara, Mindy Woodhead delivers a hilarious slow burn when an audience member accuses her of dirty deeds. And Tacey Adams brings a perfectly brittle snap of put-upon hauteur to Mrs. Schubert, who gets some of the funniest lines, most of which are overheard between slamming doors.

Wearing a T-shirt that says “CSI Las Vegas,” Nick Caruso plays top cop Mikey Thomas as a stubbled lunkhead, and he’s an energetic coach, too, coaxing the audience to recall the timing of events and speak up with its suspicions.

On opening night they didn’t need much encouragement. The roomful of grown-ups quickly became a classroom of eager fifth graders, raising their hands, shouting accusations and theories, contradicting each other, jeering and booing when they suspected someone onstage was getting away with a lie.

The Vegas version of “Shear Madness” was directed by Bruce Jordan, who created the show with partner Marilyn Abrams, adapting a German comedy called “Scherenschnitt,” and playing the lead roles themselves before expanding into other cities. The show has gone on to employ a generation of actors and technical artists.

At 25 years and holding, the Boston franchise of “Shear Madness” holds the U.S. title as longest running nonmusical play, followed by the Washington, D.C., company, which has been at the Kennedy Center for 20 years.

It was only a matter of time before someone tried the “Madness” formula in Las Vegas. The show was scheduled to open Christmas Day 2008, but ran into delays with permits and economic collapses and such — the cabaret-style venue is still waiting for its liquor license.

The Vegas producers have found what appears to be an ideal location, building a comfortable, clean-lined new theater with couches and cocktail tables on risers.

The space is right across from the hopping Yard House bar and restaurant, and on a weekend night, the strip in front of the theater becomes a vibrant open-air lobby, with a mix of shoppers, movie-goers, and music and murmurs from the bars upstairs.

It all felt like a real city street, with a happy, energized urban buzz.

With a little luck, “Shear Madness” will settle in as a longtime Vegas resident and can start setting some records of its own.

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