It’s Never Too Late If You Wait Long Enough: Shear Madness Will Finally
Be Cutting in New York
By: Ellis Nassour
Some out of town tryouts take quite a while to get to NYC. Take the hilarious who-done-it Shear Madness, for instance. Long after becoming a Boston, D.C., Chicago and world-wide hit, Bruce Jordan’s adaptation of psychologist Paul Pörtner ‘s 1963 German play, Scherenschnitt will finally make its debut here October 22, with opening night set for November 11, at New World Stages — three decades plus more of a wait than was intended.
Shear Madness , not only one of the most successful plays in theater history but also one of the longest-running non-musicals in the world*, is set in a unisex hair salon that turns into a wacky murder scene with six stereotypical characters.
[*Guinness Book of World Records along with Agatha Christie’s West End champion The Mousetrap, and Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano in Paris.]
The audience gets to solve the crime. Performances are filled with up-to-the-minute improvisational humor, which, producers say, makes it different every time you see it. Cast members mine newspapers daily for timely nuggets. This being the start of campaigns for the office of the President of the United States, can cast members resist the slate of politicians – or, for that matter, Mr. Trump’s real hair?
Pörtner created as a case study of how people perceive or misperceive reality around the murder of a concert pianist who’d lived above the salon.
Fourteen years later, Jordan, while working at an upstate theatre, came across it and was intrigued enough to suggest to his good friend Marilyn Abrams that they stage the play.
"It was rather primitive," says Abrams. "That was the best way I could describe it. It was no more than a basic outline of a script. Gradually, it became a faarce about hairdressers, suspicious customers, a bumbling detective and cops. If I hadn’t known and trusted Bruce, I would have run for the hills!"
When they did the play in Lake George in 1978 at a dinner theatre, Abrams and Jordan performed the lead roles of, respectively, Barbara DeMarco, the gum-chewing manicurist, and salon proprietor Tony Whitcomb, as well as helmed the production.
"Being on stage each night," notes Abrams," we experienced the chemistry between the actors and the audience."
They purchased world stage, screen, and TV rights from Pörtner [who passed in 1984 at age 59]. "Prior to opening in Boston in January 1980 at the Charles Street Playhouse," she reminisced, "we marketed the show on our bicycles, with baskets filled with flyers. Biking through the Common I saw some sailors. I said, ‘Hey fellows, you looking for a good time tonight?’"
It didn’t take long for the show to become e a cult hit with many locals making repeated visits. It also resonated with tourists who spread the word.
"After 36 years of ‘trying out’ in Boston, 28 years of ‘previews’ in Washington [where it opened in 1987 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Theater Lab], five years in Philadelphia, 18 years in Chicago, and five years in San Francisco, we are prepared for the big time," says Jordan.
"New York has always been our destination," states Abrams. "We just took a short detour. Our initial plan was to open here after the Boston tryout, but the tryout was so successful that it didn’t make any sense to close. We received several New York offers but they just didn’t seem right."
Shear Madness has employed thousands of actors. There have been productions in Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Sarasota, Seattle, and Tucson among many other cities – as well as Australia, Canada, Croatia, France, Greece, Iceland, Malaysia, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey.
"No two producers in the history of the American Theater have been more astonished or more grateful for a show’s success," Jordan says. "Who knew that 1.5 million people would turn out to see our little show in Boston alone and make it a world-wide hit?"
Shear Madness is being directed by Jordan. Producers are Manny Kladitis, Jeffrey Chrzczon, Terry Schnuck, Kathleen K. Johnson, Jack Lane, Radio Mouse Entertainment, Greg Schaffert, Driemeyer-Sills Productions, and The Shubert Organization, in association with Erach Screwvala and David Gersten.
Tickets from $49.50 are at the New World Stages box office, online at www.Telecharge.com, or by calling (212) 239-6200. Forr more information, visit www.ShearMadness.com.