You’ll Die Laughing At Shear Madness At Lake George Dinner Theatre
Shear Madness has returned to its roots, so to speak. The show was co-written by area thespians Brian Jordan and Marilyn Abrams as a performance vehicle for themselves back in 1978. Shear Madness has become one of the longest-running non-musical plays in American theater history. It’s an interactive murder mystery where the audience becomes the seventh cast member, offering clues and questions and ultimately solving the crime.
The play unfolds in Shear Madness, a unisex hair salon that happens to be located in Lake George. The cast of characters is the flamboyant salon owner, Tony Whitcomb, his somewhat morally challenged employee Barbara, and four patrons of the salon: Mikey Thomas, a young man in for a fast cut; Nick O’Brien, just stopping for a shave, and Mrs. Shubert, a woman of a “certain age,” overly impressed with her own wealth and self presumed status in the community. The “other character” that we come to learn about and never meet is Isabel Czerny, the shop’s landlady and former concert pianist who lives above the shop.
Without revealing any more of the plot except to say someone is murdered, the folks in the shop are not all that they necessarily appear to be, become suspects. The police arrive, bring up the house lights and involve the audience in their help to solve the crime. By evening’s end, the audience votes on the killer; the majority rules, and that is how the crime is solved. It is possible to see the show many times, and it may never turn out the same way.
In order for the play to be a success, there are several key elements: #1 an audience that is willing to jump on board with the fun and games, #2 great direction, and #3 and superb cast. Fortunately, the production currently on stage at the Lake George Dinner Theatre combines all 3. Saturday evening’s crowd was thrilled to partake, and the comments and observations, and questions kept flowing all evening. Director Bruce Jordan, one of the original co-producers and director of the 1978 production, returns to take the helm as director once again. Clearly, he knows his way around this show, and his expertise and experience shine through with this cast. Add to the mix the most important aspect, a phenomenal cast, and you have a “can’t miss” evening of theatre.
RP McLaughlin is Tony the over the top shop owner. Watching McLaughlin is watching a masterclass in comedic timing. His on-stage physicality, asides to the audience, and natural reactions were worth the price of admission.
Elizabeth Pietrangelo is Barbra, the other hairstylist, Eldon Hassler, the in-for-a-fast-haircut patron Mikey and Jeff Haffner, and Nick, the guy there for a shave, are all made for their roles. Area personality Benita Zahn loses herself in the role of Mrs. Shubert, the oh too-impressed with herself diva, which is priceless to watch. Watching Zahn inhabit the character will have you forgetting in a matter of minutes that this was the TV personality that we relied on to give us the news of the world for decades. LGDT Artistic Director Jarel Davidow returns to the stage as Eddie Lawrence, the somewhat slimy antique dealer, comes to make perhaps a less than-honest exchange with several of the other characters.
Most important is the ability of all these performers to interact flawlessly with the audience. Their ability to think fast on their characters’ feet and apparently improvise and ad-lib without ever losing the sense of who they are, is what makes this show so enjoyable.
Without exception, the show kept me and the entire audience howling out loud from the start to the conclusion. Never has an audience had so much fun. Shear Madness is a show about action but mostly about reaction and timing. The wonderful direction and the innate talent of the cast have both down to a well-honed science.
The show has been updated and, I am told, continues to be daily to make it currently relatable and hysterically funny and entertaining.
Technical Director Steve Moulton works with a skilled team including Scenic Coordinator Benjamin Hodder, Scenic Painter Noreen Szmul, Scenic Carpenter Mike Hewitt, and Props/Set Dresser Sarabeth Mason, as they create a hair shop right out of the late 1970s with everything, including a working wash sink that is made use of many times throughout the show. This is all rounded out with Frieda Toth’s on-point costumes.
The bonus to the evening is the dinner portion of the theater. Reservations are a must as the theatre, billed as the smallest dinner theatre, seats only 90-100 persons for dinner. The food, a limited menu of entree choices, is decided on when you make your reservation and are more than adequate. There is also some limited opportunity to just come for the show.
Go for the meal and stay for the laughs or enjoy the laughs and dinner… either way, Shear Madness is a wonderful reason to return to the Lake George Dinner Theatre or sample it for the first time. When you go, one word of advice, keep your show’s ending to yourself. Don’t spoil the hilarity and fun for those next to come to dine at the table.
Shear Madness runs through August 26 at the Holiday Inn Resort, 2223 Canada St., Lake George. For more information: www.lakegeorgedinnertheatre.org or call the box office:518-668-5762 ext, 411.