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Whodunit? You Decide in FST’s Shear Madness

May 30, 2023

Interactive theatre has seen something of a renaissance lately. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a Tony Award-winning musical based off the unfinished Charles Dickens novel, has the audience vote on different story elements, including who killed Edwin Drood, which determines how the production ends. And in the Broadway revival of Once on This Island, cast members invited audience members onstage to become a part of the action.

But before these interactive, theatrical hits were ever dreamed up, there was Shear Madness, a popular comedic whodunit that has been produced all over the world.

Shear Madness introduces us to the daily grind of haircuts and shaves — a grind that’s every day for local salon owner (and enthusiastic musical theatre aficionado) Tony Whitcomb. Between the roar of a blow dryer and the ring of the salon’s phone comes a murder most foul, as the landlady of the esteemed establishment is found stabbed with a pair of haircutting shears in her upstairs apartment. Two undercover cops bust down the salon doors to solve the mystery at hand—but not without the help of the audience, who is key to solving the age old mystery: “whodunit?”

Pictured: Jordan Ahnquist, Lisa McMillan, and Gina Milo. Photo by John Jones.

After directing last season’s regional premiere of The Play That Goes Wrong, Bruce Jordan returns to FST to helm this production of Shear Madness.

“It is a combination of the two most popular forms of entertainment: comedy and murder mystery,” said Jordan. “People love them both!”

Senior detective Nick O’Brien enlists the audience to piece together the moments before the murder. If someone smells something fishy, they get the cops’ attention, helping them sniff out the truth and identify the real murderer in the process. In the end, the audience’s vote ultimately seals the deal for whomever they decide is guilty!

Jordan, who also directed and starred in the original cast of Shear Madness, credits the show’s 40-year success to a potent mix of unexpected ingredients.

“People always ask, ‘What if nobody asks a question? What if nobody participates?’ We’ve found that it’s always the opposite!” said Jordan.

Pictured: Jordan Ahnquist, Lisa McMillan, and Shaun Memmel. Photo by John Jones.

And the numbers don’t lie. The show has been produced everywhere from New York City to Korea, ushering in over 12.5 million people worldwide through the doors of the Shear Madness salon. FST has produced the show twice—once in 2010 and again in 2011—both times to great acclaim.

“The play was so well received that I always knew I would want to bring it back,” said FST’s Producing Artistic Director Richard Hopkins. “The question was just when.”

Pictured: Jordan Ahnquist, Gina Milo, Lisa McMillan, and Shaun Memmel. Photo by John Jones.

FST’s production features a cast of Shear Madness veterans. Returning to FST for his 12th production, Gil Brady has performed in Shear Madness five times, including playing the lead detective Nick O’Brien twice at The Kennedy Center. For Brady, one of the special things about Shear Madness is that no two performances are the same.

“It’s a hilarious murder mystery, a game, and a social experiment,” said Brady. “And the jokes are constantly updated with modern references about wherever the show is being produced and current events to make it even funnier.”

Lisa McMillan returns to FST after performing in the 2011 production of Shear Madness, to play Mrs. Shubert, an old-money socialite. Jordan Ahnquist, seen in last season’s The Play That Goes Wrong, returns to FST for his fifth production of Shear Madness, taking on the role of enthusiastic salon owner Tony Whitcomb.

What keeps bringing audiences and actors, alike, back to the show?

Shear Madness is just a wonderfully loving show,” said Hopkins. “The play has rich characters, all of whom you know as friends by the end of the play. It’s just plain special.”

Shear Madness is now playing in FST's Gompertz Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.


Header Image: Luis E. Rivera, Gina Milo, Lisa McMillan, Jordan Ahnquist, and Shaun Memmel. Photo by John Jones.