Shucked is a country music comedy show running on Broadway
Country music has returned to New York City as the Broadway play Shucked opened last month at the Nederlander Theatre. Shucked features a book by Tony Award winner Robert Horn and a score by the Nashville songwriting team of Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, who collectively have earned three Grammy Awards and 18 Grammy nominations. The production is directed by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O’Brien with choreography by Sarah O’Gleby, music supervision, music direction, orchestrations, and arrangements by Tony Award nominee Jason Howland, and Little Big Town’s Jimi Westbrook and Opry Entertainment co-producing.
The musical comedy stars Kevin Cahoon (Fox’s Monarch, The Who’s Tommy), John Behlmann (Tootsie), Andrew Durand (Head Over Heels), Caroline Innerbichler (Frozen North American Tour), Ashley D. Kelley (Bella: An American Tall Tale), and Alex Newell (Once On This Island).
What do you get when you pair a semi-neurotic, New York comedy writer with two music superstars from Nashville? A hilarious and audacious farm-to-fable musical about the one thing Americans everywhere can’t get enough of: corn. Shucked is the new musical comedy that proves sometimes tearing down a few walls, rather than growing them, is the only way to preserve our way of life. Shucked is turning Broadway on its ear and offers a kernel of hope for our divided nation.
I had the chance to see Shucked on TMU’s recent trip to New York City, and it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. The score gets to the heart of country music storytelling, and the sarcastic wit that Brandy Clark in particular is known for in her own songwriting.
Corn pone humor beloved ala Hee Haw props up the engrossing tale of a town in dire straits as their livelihood–corn–is threatened by dying crops. In fact, this show started life as a loving parody of Hee Haw and the days when rural life television shows ruled the networks.
What Shucked evolved into is a classic Broadway adventure of love, loss, and redemption. The stand-out original cast of Broadway vets and newcomers give these rural Americans heart.
Innerbichler plays the lead, Maizy, who journeys beyond the walls of cornstalks to save her town. Along the way, she learns that life is not necessarily greener, to borrow a Travis Tritt phrase, “where corn don’t grow.” Alex Newell is plays breakout character Lulu, a wise-beyond-her-years whiskey distiller who is Maizy’s best friend and rock. The pairs solid bond is tested when an outside force comes to Cob County (get it?) to try and save their crops.
Newell steals the show with “Independently Owned,” a song championing Lulu’s fierce dependence on no one but herself. I smell a Tony nomination for Newell’s fiery performance. Another breakout number, “Somebody Will,” sung by Andrew Durand’s character Beau, flips the script on a typical country love song. Instead of pining for a love or mourning a breakup, the song is one that promises the right person will come along.
But the title of absolute scene-stealer for Shucked goes to Kevin Cahoon, our guest on the show today. His bumpkin character Peanut chews the scenery like a farmer chewing tobacco, and to hilarious effect. He delivers some of the best Hee Haw-inspired one-liners in the show, to uproarious laughter from the crowd and side-eyes from the other residents of Cob County.
Cahoon says the reaction to his character–and indeed the whole show–is unlike anything he has ever experienced in his career as a Broadway performer. People from the midwest come up to him after every show thankful to see their lives represented on a New York stage.
That may be the secret to the success of the Opry Entertainment-backed show’s unexpected success on the Great White Way. Broadway has always been home to diverse stories: from the barrios of Harlem in West Side Story, or the inner conflict of a serial killer in Sweeny Todd, and even the fantastical stories like Harry Potter and Wicked, Broadway had yet to tell a down-home tale of rural perseverance. And if the show continues its smash success, Shucked will persevere on Broadway for a long time to come.
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