A gay hairdresser whose flamboyance is completely (and hilariously) over-the-top. A high society matron who may (or may not) be running away to Bermuda with her butler. (But is he really her butler?) Two undercover cops who find themselves at the receiving end of a male hairdresser’s crazy antics with shampoo foam and (gasp!) a razor blade.
These are just a few of the comic situations displayed in Shear Madness, now playing at the New Theatre Restaurant. Red herrings and slapstick humor abound, as well as mysterious comings and goings of all the cast members, each one seeming as guilty as the next of the murder of an aging concert pianist that took place above a beauty salon.
And what a cast it is! Each member manages to contribute such a wickedly delicious presence to New Theatre’s stage that Shear Madness may be one of the best productions this area has ever seen.
The star of this campy tour de force is, without doubt, Ron Magee, who plays gay hairstylist Tony Whitcomb with such shining brilliance that he just lights up the stage. The nature of this production calls for no small degree of improvisation, and, on Press Night, Magee’s comical ad-libs often got the best laughs in each scene. (I first got the chance to see Magee strut his stuff when he played Aunt Spiker in James and the Giant Peach at the Coterie in 2012, and he was hysterically funny in that show, too.) Because Tony Whitcomb is such a broadly drawn caricature (and I realize he is a stereotype, but I think the audience is sophisticated enough to understand that not every gay hairdresser is a flaming queen), Magee is able to engage in the exaggerated mannerisms in which he personally excels. He prances, he flounces–he does everything but turn cartwheels. I found myself wishing the show would go on forever, just so I could keep feeding on his manic energy. Don’t be surprised if you leave the theater feeling a little “high” after witnessing his irrepressible passion. Believe me, you’ll never want to come back down to earth.
The glue that provides the stability to hold the production together is contributed by Ron Korinke (as Inspector Nick O’Brien), a longtime veteran of this show in touring productions, who breaks through the “fourth wall” and speaks directly to audience members, asking them to help him out by providing clues to the murder mystery. (Korinke stays solidly in character even when soliciting possible solutions to the case from audience members in the foyer of the New Theatre Restaurant during Intermission.) Korinke has trod the New Theatre boards often throughout recent years, and each production is always richer for his presence.
The inimitable Dodie Brown (as Mrs. Shubert) and Craig Benton (as Detective Mike Thomas), also both New Theatre veterans, both flaunt their superb comic timing skills and ability to play off Magee’s blazing effervescence.
Guest star Richard Karn (of Home Improvement and Family Feud) has a more low-key role (as Eddie Lawrence) in this production, but he still manages to show off his daunting acting chops.
You may find yourself coming back more than once to see Shear Madness. Each night it’s a completely different show, because of the audience interaction. At some point in each performance, the audience votes on which of the four suspects onstage committed the murder. The character who gets the most votes is hauled away by the two police officers, but not before revealing the motive for their crime.
On Press Night, the audience voted Barbara DeMarco (played with aplomb by Cathy Barnett) to be the killer, and Barnett reacted with an impassioned speech, basically saying that the old lady got what was coming to her.
The set design (a beauty parlor in hot pink and blue hues that pop out at you) by Keith Brumley is fabulous, and the original, time-worn script is peppered with hilarious references to present-day Kansas City culture.
The food served at this production matches the perfection of the acting–slow-smoked pit ham, baked tilapia, fried chicken (marinated in buttermilk and served with a savory herb sauce), grilled beef shoulder tenderloins, and bacon rosemary chicken (topped with a white wine, bacon, rosemary and sage sauce). The accompaniments–fresh green beans, a vegetable medley, spinach casserole, baked ziti, the New Theatre’s signature loaded baked potatoes (and, boy, are they loaded with mild cheddar cheese, cream cheese and sour cream!), and polenta–don’t play second fiddle to the entrees. (In fact, a vegetarian could make a wonderful meal at the New Theatre buffet.)
There’s no better holiday entertainment in the Kansas City area than New Theatre’s production of Shear Madness. Shake off the stress of the yuletide season by coming to this show–and shaking with laughter. Then come back again for a completely different show with a completely new villain. If you’ve only seen Shear Madness at the New Theatre once, then you haven’t seen Shear Madness.
THE FINE PRINT
Shear Madness runs through January 18, 2015 at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas. Call 913-649-7469 or go to newtheatre.com.