THE NEWS-PRESS- WHODUNIT? AUDIENCE HELPS SOLVE MURDER AT FLORIDA REP IN FORT MYERSJanuary 25, 2017
Charles Runnells, The News-Press 2:38 p.m. ET Jan. 24, 2017
Stylist Barbara Demarco bursts through the door of Shear Madness hair salon and screams: “She’s DEAD!”
Then she faints.
Upstairs, someone has just stabbed a concert pianist in the throat with hair-cutting scissors.
Who’s the killer?
Well, that’s where the audience comes in.
“The audience gets to play armchair detective,” says actor Timothy C. Goodwin, who plays police detective Nick O’Brien in Florida Repertory Theatre’s new production of “Shear Madness.” “It’s a comedy whodunit.
“You’re in a hair salon and an old lady gets murdered upstairs. And you’ve got to figure out who did it.”
After 37 years of laughs and mayhem, the “Shear Madness” phenomenon has finally arrived at Florida Rep. And it’s like nothing else that’s appeared on the Fort Myers theater’s stage.
The audience gets to take part in the investigation by asking questions, pointing out things to Goodwin’s police detective and even helping grill the suspects, themselves.
“The seventh cast member is the audience,” Goodwin says. “Every single night, you’re going to have a different show.
“That makes it really exciting. It’s just too much fun!”
But whatever you do, don’t call this an “audience-participation” show. The play’s creators hate the term. They don’t want to scare the audience away, after all.
Don’t worry: Nobody will ask you to leave your seat and walk onto the stage. And you won’t be called on unless you say something or raise your hand.
But here’s the truth: Once people start shouting out things, it’s hard not to join them. In fact, that’s half of the fun in this loony, campy farce — for the audience and for the actors, too.
“It’s so much fun,” says actor Danny Bernardy, who plays flamboyant, sex-hungry salon owner Tony. “You have to be ready for just about anything!”
“Shear Madness” is based on German playwright Paul Portner’s 1963 play “Scherenschnitte,” but the show is constantly adapted to the current year and audience. The Florida Rep production, for example, is sprinkled with modern pop-culture references (Twitter, FOX News, Jared from Subway) and nods to Southwest Florida (the River District, The Naples Players and even The News-Press).
“It’s amazing, because it’s still all about perception,” says director Bruce Jordan, who co-created the show with Marilyn Abrams and directed the Florida Rep production. “You’ll see one person on one side of the house see one thing, and this other person will say, ‘No, no, no, that didn’t happen!’”
The gallery of potential suspects includes the swishy Tony; his dimwitted, well-endowed stylist Barbara (Jennifer Byrne); sarcastic jerk Eddie (Jonathan Wiener); and snooty Sanibel Island socialite Mrs. Shubert (Sara Morsey). It’s up to Fort Myers Police detective Nick, his over-eager assistant Mikey (Brady Wease) and the audience to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Bernardy — who played Tony for five months at The Kennedy Center before reprising the role at Florida Rep – says he loves the improv aspect of the show. You never know what the audience will say or do or what will happen.
And, sometimes, there’s even real blood onstage.
It happened during one show at the Kennedy Center: Bernardy was using a real pair of hair-cutting shears and accidentally cut his finger.
“There was blood going everywhere from minute one,” he says and laughs. “And I said, ‘I think we know who the killer was!’”
Jordan, himself, has directed the play about 34 times across the country and also originated the role of Tony.
Audiences obviously love the show. But Jordan never thought they’d love it THIS much.
Since its debut in 1978, the zany comedy has been performed more than 15,000 times all around the world — everywhere from Chicago and Boston to Budapest and Buenos Aires. It’s listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running play in the history of the United States (37 years and counting in Boston).
Even TIME magazine wrote about the phenomenon.
“They called it a fizzy burlesque,” Jordan says. “It’s got that kind of humor in it.”
The play combines two of the world’s most popular genres — comedy and mystery — into one winning, record-breaking show.
“It’s fun,” Jordan says. “Especially when you have a group of people who are having fun together — we hope!”
And Bernardy is here to tell you — it’s just as much fun for him as it is for you.
“It’s really anything goes,” he says. “It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done onstage.”