Audience Solves Murder Mystery at Meadow Brook

By Daniel Skora

For a play that’s billed as the longest running show in America, “Shear Madness” remains relatively unknown in these parts. Perhaps it’s because no one wants to admit that a play that has no social conscience, no political agenda, no axe to grind or angst to worry over can actually be something that a grownup should want to see. The comedy has been running for nearly 40 years at a small Boston theatre and has now begun making forays into other major cities. The “Madness” has finally arrived locally, and it can be seen for all the sheer pleasure it’s guaranteed to bring at The Meadow Brook Theatre where it’s currently running.

Timothy C. Goodwin as Tony

To set up the lighthearted mood of the show, “Shear Madness” begins with some members of the cast pantomiming their way through a soundtrack of feel-good oldies, including  Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”, The Village People’s “YMCA”, and the 1962 hit by the Exciters “Tell Him”.

The setting is a unisex hair salon, and because the play adapts itself to the community where it is being presented, this Shear Madness just happens to be located in Rochester MI. Isabel Czerny is the owner of the building which houses the salon in question and lives on the second floor above the shop. Unfortunately, Isabel’s body has just been discovered in her living room and there are several suspects in the salon who could have committed the crime. Tony Whitcomb (Timothy C. Goodwin) is the salon’s male hair stylist who, despite never being called out as such, is other than your typical American male. Barbara DeMarco (Leslie Ann Handelman) is a beautician specializing in ladies’ hair and nails whose attractive figure serves as her calling card when dealing with guys. Mrs. Shubert (Lynnae Lehfeldt) is one of the salon’s regular customers who loves old money and young boyfriends and uses both to get what she wants. Eddie Lawrence (Cory Cunningham) is an antiques dealer who says his only reason coming by the shop is to do a little business with the building’s owner.

Enter the cops, detective Nick O’Brien (Gil Brady) and his sidekick Mike Thomas (Chris Stinson). But they’re not the dynamic duo they purport to be, and fortunately realize they’re going to need some help solving this case. Perhaps a little input from the audience would be of help.

Shear Cast
Fore: Chris Stinson and Gil Brady Back: Leslie Ann Handelman, Lynn Lehfeldt, Timothy C. Goodwin, and Cory Cunningham

“Shear Madness” is probably the most unusual show you’re going to have the pleasure of experiencing in quite a while. For one thing, the comedy is nonstop. Jokes, puns, malapropisms, zingers, groaners, off-color humor, slapstick… the comedy flows not like a river but like a rapids. There’s audience participation (only if you’re so inclined), and the actors, especially Detective Mike, are frequently required to adlib. Nothing’s sacred, and because the show takes on the air of the location where it’s being performed, some of the “jokes” have been written just for this Meadow Brook/Rochester Hills production.

A tiny slice of the show’s humor: An audience member raises his hand to offer his take on the murder. Detective Mike politely asks him where he’s from. The audience member tells him he’s from (here name any local city). Detective Mike than says “Sorry?”, as if he hadn’t heard the audience member’s response.  The audience member repeats the city from where he’s from, to which Detective Mike says: “Oh, no, I meant I’m sorry you’re from (whatever city the person named).

“Shear Madness” is pure enjoyment, guaranteed to make you forget whatever troubles your mind or ails your body for the show’s two hour running time.

The show is nicely directed by Meadow Brook’s Artistic Director Travis W. Walter, (originally directed by Bruce Jordan from a mystery by German author Paul Pörtner). It features another of Meadow Brook’s fantastic sets, in this case a fully equipped beauty salon complete with bright red swivel chairs and a working sink for hair washes. It’s done in pastel blues and pinks (design by Brian Kessler, assisted by Jasmine Radetski) as are the matching aprons of the employees. To say too much of what happens in both the storyline and the production would spoil it’s many surprises. But be advised: the show is a complete delight. It’s a whodunit, it’s creative theatre, it features a talented cast, and in keeping with today’s digital generation, it’s also interactive.

Costumes for the show are by Corey Collins, lighting design by Reid G. Johnson, and sound by Michael Duncan. Terry W. Carpenter is the stage manager for the production.

“Shear Madness” runs through October 29th. Tickets are available by calling the Meadow Brook box office at 1.248.377.3300 or going online at Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in the city of Rochester.

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