Jordan Ahnquist (Tony), Lynne Wintersteller (Mrs. Shubert), Jeremy Kushnier (Eddie), and Kate Middleton (Barbara) in the New York premiere of Shear Madness at New World Stages.
Jordan Ahnquist (Tony), Lynne Wintersteller (Mrs. Shubert), Jeremy Kushnier (Eddie), and Kate Middleton (Barbara) in the New York premiere of Shear Madness at New World Stages.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Producers are calling it the longest out-of-town tryout in history. For more than 30 years, the interactive comedy Shear Madness has been seen around the world, in cities ranging from Athens to Seoul. It currently holds the Guinness World Records title of "longest running play in the history of the United States." Yet there's one place this murder mystery has never been seen: the theater capital of the world, New York City.

The show's creators, Bruce Jordan and Marilyn Abrams, attributed the lack of a New York engagement to their business with productions elsewhere. But the time has finally come. This uproarious experience, in which the audience gets to pick the assassin, is, at long last, making its Manhattan debut at New World Stages. A killer time will be had by all.

Set within the Shear Madness beauty salon, the work, inspired by a 1963 German work by Paul Pörtner called Scherenschnitt, is specifically tailored to the city in which it plays. In this case, we're in a shop on 50th and 9th Avenue. The unseen murder victim is Isabel, a concert pianist who lives above the store and is found dead after a vicious stabbing in the jugular. The suspects are these: fabulously gay shop owner Tony (Jordan Ahnquist), who hates Isabel with a fiery passion; tough-talking beautician Barbara (Kate Middleton), the sole heir to Isabel's fortune; the mysterious antiques dealer Eddie Lawrence (Jeremy Kushnier); and Mrs. Shubert (Lynne Wintersteller), a wealthy Upper West Sider in need of hair care before heading to Bermuda.

Patrick Noonan as Nick and Jordan Ahnquist as Tony in Shear Madness, directed by Bruce Jordan.
Patrick Noonan as Nick and Jordan Ahnquist as Tony in Shear Madness, directed by Bruce Jordan.
(© Carol Rosegg)

With the guidance of two detectives, Nick (Patrick Noonan) and Mike (Adam Gerber), it's up to the audience to figure out whodunit. It's then that Shear Madness really hits its stride, as Nick calls for the "witnesses" to re-create the entrances, exits, and movements of each character. The result is a captivating examination of perspective and memory that pits spectator against spectator. The actors impress with their deft improvisational skills, responding to audience accusations without missing a beat (this is a real feat, considering diverse clues that different audiences spot depending on what they're paying attention to).

Using a thoroughly realistic set by Will Cotton and equally authentic costumes by Rodney Harper, Jordan's staging is absurdly enjoyable, even in its weaker moments. True, the cast members have been directed to be too loud, and the dialogue is more ungainly than graceful ("I will uptown funk you up," says Detective Nick. "Don't believe me? Just watch"). But all such quibbles disappear when everyone in the room has one focused goal: to figure out who killed Isabel. Shear Madness is like a funny version of Law & Order — and it's the perfect show for those among us who think we can spot the murderer before the opening credits.

Jordan Ahnquist, Lynne Wintersteller, and Kate Middleton share the stage in Shear Madness.
Jordan Ahnquist, Lynne Wintersteller, and Kate Middleton share the stage in Shear Madness.
(© Carol Rosegg)