Time warp cabaret

Shear Madness

Yeah, the jokes are almost as old as Cher, too.

Yeah, the jokes are almost as old as Cher, too.

Photo by Charr Crail

Rated 3.0

Is there a time warp hovering over the Cosmopolitan Cabaret—and maybe an old rabbit-ear antenna? This could be the local venue most rooted in the past, and the one most fixated on television. (“Do you have cable?” one character in Shear Madness asks. When the reply is negative, he inquires, “Are you Amish?”)

The Cosmopolitan Cabaret, with a restaurant and dance floor adjacent, opened in 2008, in the head winds of the Great Recession, with the ostensible aim of attracting both traditional musical theater fans and a younger, more urban (maybe even gay) Midtown crowd. But the programming has been weighted toward an older crowd. First came Forever Plaid, a bland homage to all-boy vocal harmony groups from the ’50s. It was followed by Late Nite Catechism, an audience-participation piece “taught” by an old-school disciplinarian “nun.” Then My Way: A Musical Tribute to Frank Sinatra.

Now, the Cabaret offers Shear Madness, a bubbly whodunnit/sex farce set in a hairstyling salon, with the audience voting to determine the likely suspect. Shear Madness was a blast from the past when it originated in Boston 30 years ago; the franchise has spawned siblings in many cities.

The Sacramento version begins with ’60s pop: the Beach Boys, the Supremes and Mitch Ryder (“Devil With a Blue Dress On”).

Stealing scenes from the get-go is the salon’s extravagantly gay proprietor, Tony. He’s played by Neil A. Casey, a relentless Energizer Bunny who basically does a Paul Lynde impersonation, with less hair. (For those under 50, Paul Lynde, who died in ’82, was TV/casino comedian famous for delivering sexy double-entendres on the original Hollywood Squares).

Tony flirts with every male onstage, and some in the audience. As a character, he’s a cheerful cartoon. When someone onstage chirps, “Tony, you are getting to be such a stereotype!” Tony gleefully replies, “But now it’s 2010! I’m retro!”

Retro describes the way Shear Madness has been customized for local consumption. The imperious society matron Mrs. Schubert (played by B Street regular Jamie Jones) becomes “Eleanor McClatchy Shubert.” (The real Eleanor McClatchy, for whom local theater’s Elly Awards are named, died 30 years ago). A one-liner about retired local TV news anchor Stan Atkinson, whose heyday spanned the ’70s and ’80s, also drew giggles; still, one wonders what an audience member under age 35 would think. But a joke about Bakersfield legislator Roy Ashburn (a right-winger arrested for a DUI after a recent evening at a gay bar) fizzled. The inevitable jokes about our action star turned governor fared better.

And yet the campy performances are a hoot. This show has attitude, even though it’s weightless. Gary Alan Wright (who SN&R has nominated as perhaps the region’s best comic actor) delivers punch lines beautifully, playing a policeman investigating the murder of elderly pianist/recluse Isabel Czerny upstairs. But even though the onstage energy runs high, you still sense that this show’s one-liners were growing whiskers when vaudeville ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was in his prime.

The bottom line: This is b-r-o-a-d audience-involvement entertainment (not exactly a play), aimed at folks with a latent desire to talk back to their TV. The jokes may be as old as the trees, but the actors are savvy. Is it worth $33-$43? Ah, well, that’s up to you to decide.