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June 20, 2005

Cracking up Boston for 25 Years: The Laughter Never “Dyes” at SHEAR MADNESS

Longest Running Non-Musical Play In American Theatre Is Boffo In Boston, Other Cities

As Boston’s hilarious whodunit geared up for its 25th anniversary in January, co-producer Marilyn Abrams reminisced about marketing the show a quarter of a century ago: “We did everything on our bicycles, which had baskets filled with flyers. One time, I was biking through the Common and I saw a group of sailors. I pedaled over and said, ‘Hey fellows, you looking for a good time tonight?’” Imagine her disbelief if she could have fast forwarded 25 years and discovered that the comedy was thriving and that something called a website ( had replaced her bike as a powerful marketing tool.

SHEAR MADNESS has employed over 100 Boston Equity performers since its inception, and has since mounted productions all over the US, including Chicago, Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, DC and many other cities. It has seen productions throughout the world, in countries such as Australia, South Africa, Iceland, Spain, Canada, and a host of others. SHEAR MADNESS is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running non-musical play in American theater history.

So much has changed since the Charles Playhouse hosted the first performance of SHEAR MADNESS on January 29, 1980. Yet after more than 10,000 performances, audiences are still having a ball trying to figure out who killed the concert pianist living above the Shear Madness Salon. Part of the success is due to the mix of exhilarating audience sleuthing and up-to-the-minute improvisational humor that guarantees a different show every night. The cast mines the newspapers daily for timely nuggets for the script. Recent references have ranged from the flu shot shortage to the Big Dig tunnel leaks to Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment woes.

Today, Equity member Marilyn Abrams, who created the role of Barbara DeMarco, the gum-chewing manicurist, continues to oversee sales and marketing. Bruce Jordan, who directed the play and created the role of Tony Whitcomb, salon proprietor, maintains the artistic quality of the productions. Jordan says, “I’ll tell you one thing, no two producers in the history of the American Theatre have been more astonished or more grateful for a show’s success. Who knew that 1.5 million people would turn out to see our little show in Boston and make it the longest-running play in the history of the United States.”

SHEAR MADNESS is performed eight times a week at the Charles Playhouse/Stage II, 74 Warrenton Street, Boston.

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