BWW Review: SHEAR MADNESS at The Forum Theatre
There are three doors on this colorful 1980s set designed by Ben Juhnke, and immediately I think "FARCE!" The 1980s tunes are pumping from the sound system, making the patrons move and groove in their seats. The atmosphere is lively, and the audience is upbeat and happy, chatting away until the action on stage catches their attention. A pre-show pantomime begins; Simeon Rawls and Jen Bechter begin their day in the beauty salon "Shear Madness"; patrons begin to enter the shop and hilarity ensues. This pantomime continues for at least 15 minutes before any of the actors speak, and it is hysterical. The action is clean, quick, and understandable. The hilarity continues on until the last few minutes of the play. I will not reveal the ending, but suffice it to say these last bits are intense and dramatic, and showcase some serious acting chops.
Shear Madness was written by Paul Portner, and was originally produced and adapted by Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan. Seen by over 12.5 million people worldwide, Shear Madness is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running play in the history of the USA. New clues and up to the minute improvisation deliver a different show every night. The directors had to receive special training to mount the production, and it is obvious they paid close attention in class.
The ensemble acting here is super clean and smart, the pacing is fast and taut, and the timing is impeccable. Director Kathy Page Hauptman and Assistant Director Craig Benton (Shear Madness, New Theatre, KC) have assembled an excellent cast, and have crafted a superb piece that even the most jaded theatre goer can enjoy. Simeon Rawls (OCU, RWS) plays shop owner Tony Whitcomb, an ultra-queen hairdresser/community theatre maven, with humour and skill. Since Rawls is a dancer, his Tony is lithe and liquid, and moves about the stage with purpose and grace. Jen Bechter (Elf, Disenchanted) plays Barbara DeMarco, the manicurist with an attitude, and a tart mouth to go along with it. Bechter's acidity is the perfect foil for Rawls' buttery delivery.
Ray Wills (The Producers, Law and Order) plays tough cop Nick Rosetti with a subtle Brooklyn accent and just the right amount of world weary agitation towards his suspects. Tom Frye (Tru, Mosely Street Melodrama) gives Antique Dealer Eddie Lawrence a laid back vibe with exquisite deadpan delivery. Wills and Frye have a fantastic Abbot and Costello turn, a sharp exchange rife with mistaken identity, reminiscent of a certain notoriously famous routine.
Rounding out the cast is the beautiful Charlene Ayers (Forum, Wichita Opera), who plays the graceful socialite Mrs. Schubert with deftness and charm. Ted Dvorak (Forum, Mosely Street Melodrama) as Wills' well-meaning but witless assistant detective Mikey Thomas, delivered some of the most hilarious sight gags with grave sobriety.
There are a plethora of Wichita references in the script - the Kochs, local streets - and a KNSS broadcast regarding the murder. I spied several Keeper of the Plains tchotchkes hiding among the set as well.
Again, I don't want to serve up any spoilers, but the show is unique in that it is interactive. At the end of the first act, Wills asks the audience's help in solving the murder. He asks the cast to recreate the murder timeline, and avidly solicits audience input. During intermission, Wills goes into the audience to "gather information." After intermission, Wills mediates a question and answer period with the "suspects" and the audience. Then the audience gets to vote on who they think the murderer is, and the final scene is played out - the murderer admits guilt and delivers a spellbinding and convincingly realistic final monologue.
After all this, Wills tells the audience "We play it the way you say it." There is a different murderer every night, so the audience can come back as many times as they like and the ending is never the same.
If you want to laugh all night, this show is a must see. The play is so popular the run has been extended until June 2nd, so get your tickets now. Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night at 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm. Prices are $23 for Thursday evenings and Sunday matinees, $25 for Friday and Saturday evenings. You can find tickets on the Forum Theatre Facebook page, on the Forum Theatre Website http://www.forumwichita.com/movies/shear-madness/ , on the official Shear Madness website, https://www.shearmadness.com/news-and-reviews , or by calling the theatre directly at (316) 618-0444.
The Forum Theatre is located at 330 N Broadway, Entrance CD, Wichita, Kansas 67218. Make sure to turn right at the corner, and turn right again into the parking lot!