REVIEW: ‘Shear Madness’ at T3

shearmadness_verticle_1Theatre 3 has turned its smaller, downstairs Theatre Too space into a kind of living museum of reliable shows. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change keep coming back, an Avenue Q ran there for upwards of a year. Currently, it’s the home for Shear Madness, one of the more enduring regional shows for nearly four decades. (It’s been playing in Boston since about 1980 and has been in the District of Columbia for 27 years.)

As much a game as a piece of theater, it’s set in Uptown Dallas’ Shear Madness salon (the location is flexible from production to production, as are the time-sensitive jokes with pop culture references). Run by flamboyant stylist Tony Whitcomb (B.J. Cleveland), it’s the setting for a murder, a respected concert pianist and Tony’s landlady. Who committed the crime? Tony? His saucy assistant, Barbara (Sherry Hopkins)? Muddle-headed socialite Mrs. Schubert (Gene Raye Price)? Shady antique dealer Eddie Lawrence (David Meglino)? Cops Nick (Bradley Campbell) and Mikey (Matthew Clark) want to find out.

And that’s where the audience comes in. Midway through Act 1, the house lights come up, and attendees are invited to ask questions, assist in restaging the events and suggest theories (which the characters might be able to explain away). The audience then even votes on who the killer is.

This isn’t the inventor of audience participation theater. Peter Pan requires children to clap if they want Tinkerbell to live, and British pantos — children’s holiday plays — rely on hissing, sing-alongs and such. And of course, both the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood and the film Clue vary their endings (one with audience votes, one with the luck of the draw). The effectiveness usually depends upon the improv skills of the cast and the engagement of the audience.

At press night for Shear Madness, the audience was involved but sometimes puzzled about how to proceed, and the finale lacked some punch. Until then, though, the play is a hoot — not subtle by any means, but silly fun. The one-liners include a slew of groaners (as up-to-date as references to Solange Knowles) with a Mad-Libs mentality (insert cagey reference to Dallas culture here). But the cast is energetic, with Cleveland exhausting as the frenetic flirt (following Pageant, this is the second show in a row with Cleveland where the audience votes on the outcome), and the slapstick works most of the time, especially in the garishly decorated set. Shear Madness is set to run most of the summer in Theatre Too; it’s a good way to get away from the heat and have a rollicking few hours of nonsense.

Through July 20 at Theatre 3.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Column Awards: Full list of winners

columnIt’s not as well covered at the Oscars, but days after Hollywood hands out its treasures, The Column Awards — honoring North Texas theater — dished out its awards.

The Columns break down their awards into Equity and Non-Equity productions, which virtually doubles the recipients and leads to, for instance ICT MainStage, a Non-Equity company, walking away with the most wins of the evening (12). But multiple award-winning companies also include Uptown Players (6), Theatre Three (5), WaterTower Theatre (4) and Dallas Theater Center and Lyric Stage (3 apiece).

The complete list of winners after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’

It’s a Wonderful Life is a heartwarming Christmas classic: A tender movie that avoids being cloying most of the time on its way to causing your heart to sink. It’s hard to go wrong with it.

But also hard to improve upon, as playwright Joe Landry proves in his “Live Radio Play” version, now at WaterTower Theatre. All the elements are there: An aw-shucks dumpling of a George Bailey (Matthew Laurence-Moore), a slimy Mr. Potter (B.J. Cleveland, in one of many impersonations), ZuZu remarking that an angel got its wings. We recognize them all from the movie.

And that’s exactly what’s wrong with this play — it’s not a play. Nor is it the movie. It’s little more than a staged reading, and it begs you to ask: How come?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

UPDATE: Funeral set for B.J. Cleveland’s dad

The memorial service for the father of B.J. Cleveland — who died just hours before B.J. went on stage in Victor/Victoria for an ailing Paul Taylor — has been set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the Glenview Baptist Church at 4805 N.E. Loop 820 in the Haltom City area. Interment will follow at the Greenwood Cemetery. For those wishing to sit with the family, visitation will take place Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. and the Greenwood Funeral Home at 3100 White Settlement Road in Fort Worth.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

B.J. Cleveland: Tragedy to triumph in 24 hours

If you ever wondered whether the theatrical cliche “the show must go on!” was anything more than that — a cliche — you’d know for sure it isn’t if you were at the Kalita Humphreys on Sunday. Our friends at TheaterJones post this amazing story about B.J. Cleveland stepping in for an injured actor in Uptown Players’ production of Victor/Victoria (which I reviewed in this week’s edition). You can also read about it from Elaine Liner at the Dallas Observer blog. Facebook was flooded with comments and admiration for Cleveland, one of North Texas’ most notable and popular entertainers for more than 20 years.

I texted B.J. Sunday night to offer my condolences and congratulate him on his triumph just a few hours after his curtain call. He was in the middle of writing his father’s obituary.

That’s one dedicated theater queen, I’ll tell ya.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones