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Shear Madness Continues to be Sheer Genius

The longest-running play comes to Stages Repertory Theatre this summer.

By Doni Wilson July 7, 2016

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Paul Portner’s Shear Madness is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest-running play in the United States. (And rightfully so!) The comedic mystery comes to Stages Repertory Theatre this summer with a new staging co-directed by Josh Morrison and Mitchell Greco, including many well-known Houston favorites, like Deborah Hope and Justin Doran.

Set in Houston’s chicest hair salon, Shear Madness asks the audience to help solve the murder of a famous pianist who lived above the beauty parlor, creating an interactive evening of sifting through clues in this fast-paced, comedic whodunit. Since the audience is faced with new clues and improvised performances, each night can deliver an entirely different outcome. The result has been a hit with legions of play-goers who get to be their own “Shearlock Holmes” and find the killer. Voted “Best Comedy of the Year” seven times by the Boston Globe and named “Best Play of the Year” by both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Philadelphia EnquirerShear Madness has enjoyed widespread popularity since it took the stage in 1980.

Houston acting legend Deborah Hope (who frequently appears at Stages, including roles in Searching for Eden and Communicating Doors) spoke about the popular appeal of Shear Madness. “I think this has been such a success with audiences for more than 30 years because it's so interactive. The characters in the play are quirky and the audience is another character. The space transforms into a real, working beauty parlor. I get to have my hair washed and set every night. For free!" Hope shared. "A murder happens off-stage and the audience becomes the witnesses and decides, by interrogation and vote, who is the culprit and how the show ends. Because there is a different audience each night, the outcome can change. It's funny, fast-paced, has improv elements... How could someone not love this?!” 

Hope recalls that Shear Madness was the very first show she saw when she moved to Houston in the '80s. "Marcy Bannor, who I've done several shows with since and is a friend of mine, played the role I'm playing now—what a full-circle moment!”

The comedic and improvisational elements of Shear Madness fits in well with Hope, as her first professional job was stand-up comedy. "Talk about jumping into the deep end," Hope jokes. "I ran around the country doing stand-up in clubs, colleges, retirement homes and biker bars.  Some gigs were pretty rough. (I'm talking about the retirement homes: Those people are not afraid to throw jello pudding if you're bombing!)”

Hope is thrilled to return to Stages after 13 years in New York. “They welcomed me back and I could not be more proud or happy. The creative crew is brilliant—from the set designers, costumers, lighting geniuses, sound designers and artistic director Kenn McLaughlin. You really feel like you are a part of something extraordinary. I feel very lucky.”

Shear Madness. July 13—August 21. From $21. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. 713-527-0123.

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