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BWW Reviews: SHEAR MADNESS at The Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts

After 27 years, the crowd pleasing SHEAR MADNESS at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has become the 2nd longest-running theatrical production in the country, second only to the same production at the Charles Playhouse in Boston. According to press notes, the play has now been seen by a worldwide audience of 10.9 million with over 3.2 million people attending the Kennedy Center production alone.

The Kennedy Center production opened on August 12, 1987 for a 12-week run. It's still going strong.

It's rare that they open up this long-running production for reviews to be done, so I was thrilled to take the opportunity to check it out. My first experience with Shear Madness was actually it's sister production in Boston nearly 20 years ago (back when running for 15 years was impressive). I saw that production several times as I was working at the Charles Playhouse as an usher while I was in college. I loved it every. single. time. I knew all the tricks, I even knew how this choose-your-own-adventure story turned out no matter which page was turned.

All that being said, I was anxious to relive all those moments when I visited the Kennedy Center last week. And I can't lie - it was a very fun evening. I also can't help but realize that the young guy who was currently in college at the time, majoring in theatre had a different experience back then, than I did the other night.

This show is an audience pleaser. It's simple, with a fun murder mystery plot and a lot of cheap laughs. It's not Shakespeare - but the folks that have been showing up for nearly 3 decades aren't the same people who would be buying a ticket to the Folger for the most part.

The play takes place in a local hair salon, replete with DC jokes, Nationals t-shirts, and of course, the stereotypically effeminate gay hair dresser. Someone dies and the audience gets to investigate and pick a killer. The proceedings can be funny at times and depending in the audience, the pacing can be either light and quick, or painfully slow.

The cast currently inhabiting the salon includes Nora Palka as Barbara DeMarco, the ditzy hairdresser, Michael Litchfield, the stereotypical gay hairdresser Tony Whitcomb, Nick DePinto as Eddie Lawrence, Maureen Kerrigan as the elderly Mrs. Shubert and as the nerdy and gruff cops (respectively), Adi Stein as Mike Thomas and Joe Mallon as Nick O'Brien.

Directed by Bruce Jordan, Shear Madness hits its stride when the house lights go on and the audience becomes a main character. Until then, it feels like we're trying to get through exposition as quickly (and often as loudly) as possible. Through all the yelling, we discover a murder has apparently taken place upstairs and it's up to us to figure out whodunnit.

Something that took me by surprise, which I don't think did in 1995, was the awkwardly homophobic and racist humor in the show. One of our main characters, Tony Whitcomb, is a very stereotypically gay hairdresser (groundbreaking). Several jokes focus on straight guys literally being afraid of him and a faked freak-out when he plants a kiss on one of the guys. This may have been hilarious 20 years ago, I just think it's lazy in 2015. Additionally, an awkward racist joke about Asian people also didn't land the way it might have years ago. Perhaps audiences have grown up a bit. Finally, in a city as diverse as DC, I had hoped for a bit more accurate representation in the cast.

All that said, the show is a longtime favorite and an easy go-to for folks trying to figure out what to do while visiting DC. It's guaranteed fun and has been for decades. While I do hope they do some major updates to make up for changing attitudes, I hope to see it running 27 years from now.

TICKET INFORMATION Performances for Shear Madness are Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.Tickets are $50 and are on sale now through the Kennedy Center website, in-person at the Kennedy Center box office, or by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324

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From This Author Jamie McGonnigal