Encore Michigan

‘Shear Madness’ is cuttingly funny at Meadow Brook

Review October 10, 2017 Amy J. Parrent

ROCHESTER HILLS, MICH.–At the Shear Madness curtain call, one character/ actor asked the audience not to give too many details to potential future audience members. Suffice it to say, the show playing at Meadow Brook Theatre is a wacky comedy that’s part farce, part whodunit, with a storyline that can alter from night to night. There’s just a hint of improv, and–in a show that’s played world-wide for decades–there’s the fact that each production is allowed to stuff itself with local references. (After a nearby town was repeatedly referenced, my theatre-going companion asked, “What do they have against Romeo?”)

Also, here’s a tip–you might want to get to the theatre early, because the show starts before the show officially starts. (Watch for the perfect bit of lip-syncing at one point.) The piece continues through intermission, as audience members chat with the characters/actors. (Shout out to the guy who tried on one of the women’s hot red pumps.)

Yes, that’s right, the play is also an interactive experience. But, my fellow introverts, don’t be alarmed. This is not one of those drag-you-onstage shows. There’s a set point where the audience will be allowed to comment and ask questions. You can stay quiet and let someone else do the talking. But you might be surprised how much you want to raise your hand or yell to the stage.

The six-person ensemble, several of whom have performed the show at venues including Off-Broadway theaters and The Kennedy Center, is good across the board. Timothy C. Goodwin is Tony, the impish hair salon owner, who says he “might have been a stereotype in the 90s,” but is now “just retro.” On opening night Goodwin ad-libbed at least one bit of business that had his costars breaking like Ryan Gosling on “Saturday Night Live.”

Leslie Ann Handleman is an attractive young salon employee with a hint of Brooklyn and ties of various sorts to other characters, seen and unseen. Gil Brady is an ably goofy Nick O’Brien, who turns out to be not whom you first thought he was. Chris Stinson is his eager, nerdy associate. Lynnae Lehfeldt is a believable Bloomfield Hills-ish matron. And Cory Cunningham is the mysterious Eddie Lawrence, a guy described in on of the topical references as a sort of grungy Jimmy Kimmel.

And yes, there are many topical references, from the Trump team to Bill and Hillary. (The latter are Tony’s cats, and at one point, Tony says he feared the building was on fire, so he told Hillary to run, run, run. And the cat responded, “Never again!”)

But the script at times also shows its decades-old roots. (It’s played for 30 years in D.C., 40 in Boston, and was adapted from a 1960s German play.) Maybe this show was the first to feature a character who confused lesbians with Lebanese, maybe not. Let’s just say some puns are punnier than others.

But it really gets revving when it turns interactive. There’s a heightened hilarious energy to the actors’ interactions with the crowd.

Per usual, director Travis W. Walter has set the actors to a good pace, and the tech is quite fine, from the beautiful bright colors of Brian Kessler’s set (with lighting by Reid G. Johnson) to Mike Duncan’s sound design. And the show makes fun use of classic pop songs.

Finally, you’re wondering who done the whodunit? I really can’t tell you, because … well, you’ll see.

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