Interactive or improvisational comedy is never as easy as it looks, and it’s also risky when a show starts weaving lots of local references and jokes into its established storyline. All in all, Florida Studio Theatre’s current production of Shear Madness (at the Gompertz Theatre) pulls it off quite well.
Of course, the inventive minds behind Shear Madness have had plenty of time to work on getting things right; this long-running whodunit first bowed more than 30 years ago (making its off-Broadway debut in 1980), and its creators (Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan, who’s billed as director here) have presented it in many cities since then, adapting many of its lines as the times and the venues have changed, while sticking to the original format.
That format is simple but allows for lots of variation. The show is set in a hair salon (hence the name), where several richly comic stereotypes are gathered: the light-in-his- loafers hairdresser, Tony (Michael Kevin Baldwin); the gum-chewing manicurist in leopard-skin pants (Juliana Black); the middle-aged matron customer (Barbara Bradshaw); and an on-the-make “used antiques” dealer (Joseph Ditmyer). They’re the perfect bunch of suspects when the salon’s upstairs landlady is murdered, and the two cops on the case (the not-so-bright Mikey (Nick Caruso) and the take-charge Nick (Timothy Goodwin) have to solve the mystery—with the help of audience members, who must pay close attention so they don’t miss the clues.
Juliana Black and Barbara Bradshaw in Shear Madness (reading Sarasota Magazine, of course).
I don’t want to give any more away about the show’s plot twists. But the production moves along swiftly and surely (a comic pantomime prologue, set to carefully chosen rock music, engages us even before the official show starts, with pseudo customer Mikey getting a shampoo that almost kills him from a scatterbrained Tony). Each of the cast members is well suited to his or her role, although it’s hard not to single out Baldwin, a bundle of naughty-innocent energy clad in pink who occasionally manages to make his fellow cast members lose their composure.
Most of the local or topical references work for laughs (Bradenton, Toyota and Sarah Palin all get their jabs), with an occasional groaner (that may or may not be intentional). At intermission, audience members get a chance to vent their suspicions or questions on a note-taking Nick in the lobby before heading back in for Act II, where everyone votes on the most likely killer (thus making each evening’s conclusion a different one).
It’s great fun, and it continues at least through March 13 (there’s always the possibility of an extension). For tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.