Shear Madness, Insane Fun

By Bob & Sandy Nesoff

Comedy is often the most difficult acting chore to do. You never know what mood the audience is in, but yet you have to play to it. Johnny Carson used to take the stage and either watch his audience laugh until they had tears in their eyes, or sit politely and watch him.

That’s never a problem at “Shear Madness,” playing at the New World Stages. Before the play actually opens, the characters are cavorting on stage, setting the scene and the audience is in full-throat laughter. If there was ever a more talented cast to take the stage, you’d be hard-pressed to find it.

This murder-mystery involves not only the cast, but drags the audience in as well, testing its knowledge of events that have taken place in an effort to determine who is the killer of a faded concert pianist, (who, by the way is neither seen nor heard except for music in the background) found dead in an apartment right above the barber shop.

Virtually from the get-go, the audience was in agony from the rapid fire jokes, innuendos and zany activities on the stage. No one is spared from Donald Trump to Anthony “Check me out” Weiner.

In a cast of six, it’s difficult to pick a standout. That being said, two of the actors stole the show. Jordan Ahnquist, Tony the barber/hairdresser, is an absolute hoot. His facial expressions, comments, body language, absolutely tore the audience apart. His ability to stand on the side and kill the audience with a simple rolling of his eyes, or the twist of his body was incredible.

“I started with the show three years ago in Boston,” Jordan commented to NYLM. “It gives everyone a chance to be silly and believe in a heightened reality. Everyone finds something to do. Grandparents and kids join in to try and solve the crime. You can’t ‘phone anything in.’ Much of the material changes regularly with current events. Today’s show could be different that the one you rehearsed the other day and there’s room for improv. Working with this cast and the audience, you always leave in a better mood than you came in with.”

The second is, without doubt, Patrick Noonan, Detective Lieutenant Nick O’Brien, who carries much of the show on his shoulders, is a macho man who falls prey to the foibles of Tony and Barbara, the hairdresser with the buxom, padded (we think) bra that seems to enter the room before she does.

Ad-libbing takes a toll on both the actors and audience. At one point while Nick is questioning Tony, the barber sidles up to him, nose-to-nose and plants a kiss on his lips, then dances away.

Nick (Noonan) almost lost it at that point and the audience couldn’t control itself. Nick and Tony stumbled for a minute or two as they attempted to comport themselves, while the audience roared. Nick stood on a staircase, biting his lip in a vain effort to control himself.

Noonan, who plays a straight man to Tony’s frenetic barber, has been with the show on and off since 1998.

“It’s a nice job for actors to come and go,” he says. “It’s a fun episode to be on with ‘family’ and takes away the worry of an unemployment check. The lights come on at night and the audience participates as a seventh character in the show. We never know from one night to the next who the killer will be. I’ve wanted to switch roles, but the producers said they needed me as Nick.”

Let’s not forget the rest of the cast. Barbara (Jennifer Ellis), the perfect gum-chewing Brooklynite, never had the opportunity to sing. But she didn’t have to. Her voice has won high praise from critics around the country for roles such as Eliza in My Fair Lady. Her versatility is that of the consummate pro.

If she never worked as a hairdresser, you’d never know it. Her walk and body language was perfect and would have raised the temperature of any teenage boy in any Brooklyn high school.

The rest of the cast, and this is not meant to overlook anyone, was stellar as well. Adam Gerber (Mike) the detective accompanying Nick; Jeremy Kushner (Eddie) as the perfectly bearded potential killer and paramour of Barbara; Lynn Wintersteller (Mrs. Schubert) the uppity Upper East Side matron, who may or may not be having an affair…with somebody?...were all priceless.

The amazing thing about Shear Madness is the fact that the actors are able to slip in and out of their roles. The producers work with them and if a promising role in another production comes up, they are given leave to take the job and return when another opening comes up.

The show has had a more than 30-year run in Boston, 23-years at the Kennedy Center in Washington and throughout the United States.

It began in the summer of 1976 in Lake George when Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams were working on a production for a playhouse there. They discovered that they both had the same warped sense of humor. They began to develop the concept for Shear Madness and the show took off and became one of the longest running shows in the country. It might be second to London’s “The Mousetrap.”

The show caters to couples, groups, wedding parties, divorce parties and anyone who is looking for an evening of laughter and “Shear Madness.” The show is at the New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues.)

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