In an abrupt and surprising move, the producers of “Shear Madness’’ will ring down the curtain this Sunday on the popular murder mystery in Boston, after 40 consecutive years at the Charles Playhouse.
After an initial announcement Wednesday that gave no explanation for the closing, coproducers Marilyn Abrams and Bruce Jordan responded to questions from the Globe by saying, through a spokesman, that based on “the current business projections from the financial community, they felt it was prudent to close at this time rather than incur losses.”
That vague answer is likely to raise more questions, especially since Boston is the only city where "Shear Madness'' is being shuttered, just two months after its much ballyhooed 40th anniversary at the Charles. In their statement, Abrams and Jordan said “Shear Madness’’ will continue to play at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where the show is in its 33rd season. So, apparently, will the productions of the show in France, Poland, Bulgaria, Korea, Spain, Lithuania, and Russia.
The spokesman did not immediately reply to questions about whether the box office for "Shear Madness'' at the Charles had been slumping, or whether the potential impact of the coronavirus prompted the move.
Asked whether there is a rift in their longstanding partnership or an issue with the Charles Playhouse, which is owned by Broadway In Boston, Abrams and Jordan said through the spokesman that they "remain business partners and best friends and have enjoyed a harmonious relationship with the Charles Playhouse for forty years.''
Ann Sheehan, spokeswoman for Broadway In Boston, said Wednesday evening that the organization was “informed by Marilyn and Bruce’’ on Tuesday that “Shear Madness’’ would close this Sunday. “With this news, we will be exploring other options and possibilities for our venue space inside the historic Charles Playhouse,’’ Sheehan said by e-mail.
The upshot is that the last performance of "Shear Madness’' in Boston will be this Sunday, March 15.
An interactive murder mystery set in a fictional hair salon on Boston’s Newbury Street, “Shear Madness’’ is unapologetically escapist fare that became one of the longest-running plays in the world. Since Jan. 29, 1980, the freewheeling whodunit has played eight shows a week, 52 weeks a year, at the Charles, drawing enthusiastic audiences with its local flavor, topicality, and broad humor built on a nonstop barrage of puns and double entendres.
Created in the late 1970s by Abrams and Jordan (who also starred in the show in its early incarnation), “Shear Madness’’ provided employment and career boosts for many Boston actors over the decades. However, its popularity and that of the long-running Blue Man Group, also at the Charles, meant that the Warrenton Street theater — once the venue where Bostonians went to see works by the likes of David Mamet, Stephen Sondheim, and Harold Pinter — was essentially taken out of the broader theater mix.
“Shear Madness’’ was certainly not the first production to draw an audience into the action, but its runaway success helped to popularize the concept. “We were interactive and immersive before those were words,” Abrams told the Globe during a December interview at the Charles. “And that was part of the magic.” Another part, actress Celeste Oliva told the Globe during that same interview, is that "Shear Madness'' is "a great entry-level show for people who might not know theater pieces.”
In “Shear Madness,’’ the murder plot was the same, performance after performance, but the identity of the killer was up to each night’s audience. First, the (unseen) upstairs landlady is mysteriously slain with a pair of shears, casting suspicion on the salon’s employees and customers, a furtive bunch.
Then the audience turns into a combination of sleuth and jury, using their observations of each character’s behavior to interrogate the actor-suspects. For instance, at a recent performance that appeared to be sold out, the audience peppered the actors with questions like “What’s in the briefcase?,’’ “What happened to your apron?,’’ and “Can we see if his finger is really cut?’’ Finally, spectators collectively vote on whodunit.
Now, for Bostonians pondering the shuttering of “Shear Madness’’ after four decades with only partial answers as to why, the question is more like whydunit.