LOGAN­ — Shave and a haircut? And a killer murder? Shear Madness, by Paul Pӧrtner, is a madcap comedy participatory whodunnit performed at Lyric Rep and is a cut above the rest. Set today at 3:50pm in the Logan Utah Shear Madness Salon, director Michael Shipley presents a delightfully hysterical production of a unique contemporary theatrical piece with additions to delight and engage Utah locals.

The play introduces the owners and patrons of the Shear Madness Hair Styling Salon, taking great care establishing the salon located on Logan Utah Main Street. Under investigation is the murder of upstairs neighbor Isabelle Tourney. An eccentric cast of characters are all under suspicion of the University of Utah campus police. Officers Nick O’Brien (Mike Shira) and Mikey Thomas (Ryan Adams) begin the investigation, before turning to the other witnesses- the audience. The audience hopefully paid attention because attendees are now active witnesses in investigating the crime. Note – do not act suspiciously in front of 150 paying patrons. The finale is ultimately determined and performed differently every night according to the audience’s suspicions.

Lyric Rep; Utah State University; 2024 ; Caine Lyric Theatre ; Cache County ; Shear Madness

Lyric Rep 2024. Photo credit Lucas Bybee

As a participatory play, the strongest highlights are the cast performances in delivering scripted characters and improvising. Equity actor Brandon Foxworth is insanely entertaining to watch in presenting the flamboyant owner of the salon, Tony Whitcomb. Foxworth begins with awesome physical comedy styling a patron’s hair in the pre-show. Later, Foxworth hits the comedic beats delivering a monologue about victim Isabelle Tourney while continuing great physical humor. In Foxworth’s performance, Tony the hairstylist is a talented, engaging storyteller. Foxworth further develops the character by creatively improvising responses during the investigation. Mike Shira as Officer Nick O’Brien manages the interactivity of the audience well while moving the plot forward. Shira aptly performs the investigation while interacting with the audience, so the fidelity of the character is memorable and real. Shira gives the comedy’s straight man with dry humor to the over-the-top ensemble of characters.

Lyric Rep; Utah State University; 2024 ; Caine Lyric Theatre ; Cache County ; Shear Madness

Lyric Rep 2024. Photo credit Lucas Bybee

The richness of the cast makes each a distinguishable suspect in the murder while maintaining comedic beats. While Foxworth’s performance stands out before revealing the murder, the other cast members each play a part in setting the stage for the investigation. Sydney Fullmer plays hair stylist Barbara DeMarco as ditsy and coy contrasting with the more outlandish Tony. Patrons Eddie Lawrence (Sumner Jones Shoell) and Mrs. Schubert (Ariana Whatcott) add their eccentric flair. Shoell delivers a wry humor as an antiques dealer with elusive motivations. Whatcott performs well, giving the better-than-you attitude of a wealthy resident above such a dreadful crime. Whatcott’s protestations define exasperation with such insinuations of guilt. The extension of these characters into improvising in their roles blends convincingly throughout the performance, including during the intermission.

All the characters attempt to persuade innocence, but director Shipley stages the movement of the characters to give each motive and opportunity allowing the unique ending of the production to occur and feel plausible. Each performer is well prepared to deliver the improvisation needed in response to the audience. I would be highly interested in learning the level of preparation the director led the cast to prepare for all variations of interaction and improvisation. I will note that the performances are farcical which lends a madcap vibe to the humor and energy, though this leads to a reliance on shouting at tense moments.

Lyric Rep; Utah State University; 2024 ; Caine Lyric Theatre ; Cache County ; Shear Madness

Lyric Rep 2024. Photo credit Lucas Bybee

The little ad-libs specific to Utah locals integrate the world of the play into the audience. References including the police working for the USU campus, the Old Barn Community Theatre, characters offering addresses with Cache Valley streets, and numerous Utah cultural references all give local color to the production. Additionally, the show uses many contemporary references to modern shows and topical events that allow the production to feel set modern. A highlight is Ryan Adams as junior officer Mikey Thomas explaining cassette tapes to the younger members of the audience.

The design of the production shares this contemporary vision and blend. Costume designer Maren Lyman dresses each distinctly and in ways that reflect personality. For example, ditsy hairdresser DeMarco looks the part in a cheetah print with red accents in a belt and heels. Lawrence, the antique dealer, contrasts this look with a neatly fitted three-piece suit and red tie. Sound designer Bruce Duerden incorporates a contemporary radio playing music throughout the production. This radio has music breaks which function as the in-show announcements to the audience further blending the interactivity of the play. Scenic designer Mauri Anne Smith does well to use a brick façade to blend the pink salon walls to the Caine Lyric Theatre house.

The salon set is a masterful display of practical props and set pieces. Designer Smith and properties manager Allison Lijenquist manage a working telephone, sink, hair basin, hair dryers, and multiple functioning salon toiletries. Collaboration between designers, directors, and performers further the illusion that the salon is a real place in Logan. The preshow using running water as the stylist shampoos and conditions a fellow performer’s hair is immediately engaging and promising. The designers allow the characters and audience to create the illusion of shared space that makes the fourth wall feel temporary.

Lyric Rep; Utah State University; 2024 ; Caine Lyric Theatre ; Cache County ; Shear Madness

Lyric Rep 2024. Photo credit Lucas Bybee

The production notes a PG-13 movie rating equivalency. I would advise adults with younger patrons to consider that the show contains general mild language, some brief moderate language, and some innuendo. The murder is described with mild detail and the interactivity prompts a variety of ad-libs in the same vein of humor and comedy. There is also a maturity in how the audience should interact with the performers.

The performance is a unique blend of theatricality because of the structure of the show, the audience involvement, and the performer’s skill to improvise in character. Shear Madness delivers this theatrical experience that is a can-not-miss event. Lyric Rep notes that patrons of the annual repertory company highly requested the play, and the requests are justified well. Shear Madness is the longest-running play in United States history and is delightfully adapted to Cache Valley with this Utah premiere. Where so much entertainment can be streamed, this production offers variety every time in a way that requires a live audience and outstanding performers. The insane reality of this production is that while I saw one performance, the show’s concept means that every performance will be different. The performances of Shear Madness promise a different style for each outing for intrigued audiences, and attendance at the salon is worth investigating.

Shear Madness plays various evenings at 7:30pm through July 26th. Performances are at the Caine Lyric Theatre (28 West Center Street, Logan, UT). Tickets range from $18-48. For more information, visit https://www.usu.edu/lyricrep/.

This review is generously supported by a grant from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.