‘Shucked’! “Shucks Ma’am, It’s a Helluva Show!”
If you love corn and even if you hate it, you will laugh at the jokes about or related to the sunny fruit (official classification), in Shucked, the funny, bright, clever, homespun musical fable/farce about love, corn and deeper things. Shucked is a throwback to delightful Broadway productions that are easily relatable and pack a thematic lunch that is palatable and digestible. The cast twits itself throughout and clues the audience in to the one-liners, puns and spicy double entendres, as they judiciously pause for the raucous audience laughter to subside, then deliver the next quip with a twinkle and no wrinkle.
Shucked has something for everyone with innuendos aplenty. Directed by the seasoned Jack O’Brien (Tony Award® winner for Hairspray), who shepherds his cast toward drop-dead pacing and finely honed delivery to produce maximum laughs, the production currently runs at the Nederlander Theatre around two hours and fifteen minutes, including intermission.
With the book by Tony Award® winner Robert Horn (also Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, NY Drama Critics’ Circle awards for Tootsie), and music and lyrics by the Grammy® Award-winning songwriting team of Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, the show is finding its way to hit status, having received its jet-pack from these talented creatives. Featuring an exceptional cast, whose vocals hit the mark every time, Shucked is a musical that leaves one with a smile on one’s face, and songs thrumming through one’s mind. It’s a delectable corn dog that takes you from “farm to fable.”
Introduced by bubbly, enthusiastic Storytellers # 1 and # 2 (Ashley D. Kelley, Grey Henson), who note many funny, lovely facts about and uses of corn (“Corn”), we learn about Cobb County, the place that time forgot because folks had all they needed and walled themselves off from the outside world, using the “high as an elephant’s eye” corn plants. There, Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler) and Beau (Andrew Durand) are standing at the altar ready to receive their wedding vows when the cataclysm happens. Patches of corn plants decorating various sections of the stage begin to die. How Scott Pask (scenic design) manages this and the corn’s restoration is neatly effective.
Believing that Cobb County’s xenophobia is destructive and their worst enemy in face of this corn dying disaster that threatens their way of life, heroine Maizy identifies the county’s chief problem (“Walls”). It has a fixed and irrational paranoia about strangers, and thus, they avoid the outside world. Maizy decides that she must leave the isolation of their existence and find answers to the corn die off. Not only does this upset her cousin Lulu (Alex Newell), and the riotous Peanut (Kevin Cahoon’s deadpan delivery and twanging accent are sincerely hysterical), her fiance Beau (Durand’s macho know-it-all is humorously harmless), puts his annoyed foot down. He tries to exert his will over her when she expresses her desire to leave. However, she has a point when she tells him Cobb County is too limited to provide any answers. Despite Beau’s directives, Maizy leaves, affirming they will be married after she finds the solution to their corn apocalypse.
On her journey from Cobb County, Maizy ends up in Tampa, which the Storytellers conclude is a “humid wonderland of welcoming Tamponians and one douchebag” (“Travelin’ Song”). The number is a clever, humorous build up to the large, bright, neon letters that spell out the city’s name. It is only topped by the city slicker, scam artist Gordy (John Behlmann), a scheming, horse gambling, poseur podiatrist who “removes corns.” Naive Maizy seeks out this scientist and professed expert on corns, not realizing where his “expertise” lies. To make matters worse for Maizy, Gordy is a failed gambler and con (“Bad”). Nevertheless,, the sweet, simple Maizy shows him the rot-ridden ear of corn from home and he promises he might be able to do something.
Sensing an easy way to get out of his $200,000 gambling debt from leg-breaking gangsters, Gordy shows interest in Maizy, after he takes her broken bracelet to jewelers to have it fixed. In a brief, stylized, mini-aside by the all-purpose storytellers, who double this time as disreputable jewelers showing their “range,” (Kelly’s Storyteller #1 quips this), they move the story ahead. They assure Gordy they will buy the unique, valuable stones which can easily be found, “it gathers in clusters like single women in their thirties.” After a seductive dinner and drinks, Gordy produces a perfect ear of corn for Maizy that he tells her he has “fixed.” Of course, she invites him back to Cobb County “to fix” all the corn. Behlmann’s Gordy persists in his romantic seduction to get into Maizy’s rocks underneath the house where she lives.
Thrilled at her own bravery and ability to rectify Cobb County’s corn apocalypse, Innerbichler’s Maizy effectively shows her vocal chops in “Woman of the World.” After the proud, self-satisfied Maizy toots her own horn for bringing back stranger Gordy to meet and save the town, at Beau’s farm Peanut voices his opinion about Beau and Maizy’s love. He quips, “Ever since Maizy came back with this Corn Doctor, you’ve been pissier than a public pool.” In her meet up with Beau to share her “new-found wisdom,” Maizy affirms her sophisticated personality change. In her “pissing-contest” competitiveness with Beau, she lets information slip that devastates Durand’s Beau. He kicks her off his land, then belts out “Somebody Will,” a number that guys can identify with, if they have ever broken up with a long-term partner.
In another women centered number, Lulu (the superb Alex Newell),, belts out a syncopated country tune, “Independently Owned” promoting her whiskey business. As she advertises her autonomy from a man, she warns Gordy to “watch out,” despite her business spiraling downward on an absence of corn supply. Regardless of what happens, Lulu knows who butters her corn. The exchanges among Maizy, Gordy and Lulu, like most of the dialogue in Shucked, are crafted for Henny Youngman/Mae West styled one-liners, with ironic punchlines shot out like rhythmically paced cannon fire. How the actors convey their characters without “pushing it” is authentic and a testament to their comedic brilliance, O’Brien’s direction and Horn’s fine book.
In a winding up toward the end of Act I, Gordy’s situation has a monkey wrench thrown into it. Due to poor cellular connections on two phones, he gets the wrong information which spurs him on in desperation. Over-hearing Gordy’s phone conversations (misinformation), Peanut, Beau and Lulu assess that Gordy is up to no good (“Holy Shit”). How they settle at that conclusion speaks more to their upset that Maizy bravely left and came back with a solution, than hearing the truth. Maizy is forced to defend Gordy’s presence in Cobb County and affirms her faith in him. Alone, she admits she is torn between her feelings for Beau and the possibility of love with Gordy (“Maybe Love”).
Shocked into accepting her belief in him, Gordy persuades the townspeople of his ideas about “fixing” the corn (“Corn”). As the song concludes Act I, Maizy accepts Gordy’s proposal of marriage, and we are left for one intermission to guess whether Gordy’s plan to resurrect the corn has efficacy or his inner shyster is getting over to hightail it outta Cobb with some valuable gem stones.
Horn’s book is tightly spun with the songs which slip in messages of love, acceptance, risk taking, hospitality and compromise, with large portions of savory humor in the lyrics. Jason Howland, who is responsible for music supervision, music direction, orchestrations and arrangements, keeps the score country vibrant, so it sounds like a mix of other music genres in its country beats and rhythms. Japhy Weideman lights the barn for appropriate atmosphere, and John Shivers’ sound design is on target. This is tricky in a show like Shucked, which is dependent on a balance of sound throughout the theater for maximum contagious laughter at the quips, puns and double entendres. Mia Neal’s wig design has a modern flavor with a “Hee-Haw” touch to meld with Tilly Grimes patchwork, homespun costume design of plaids, paisleys and “patches,” that appear to be cut out of various “past-their-prime” clothing items.
Scott Pask’s barn staging has every item and tool one would imagine on a working farm. The intricate, wooden barn structure remains stationary while Lulu’s whiskey still and paraphernalia are brought out when appropriate for some songs in Act II (the hysterical, ironic “We Love Jesus”). And the playing area is large enough to roll out whiskey barrels for the fantastic “Best Man Wins,” as Beau, Peanut, Storyteller #2 and the ensemble jump on the barrels and stand Beau on a long board and move him around. This is an ingenious and visually exciting dance number configured by choreographer Sarah O’Gleby.
There is no spoiler alert. You’ll just have to see Shucked to laugh until your sides ache and pay attention to what happens to bring the corn back from the edge of doom to bless Cobb County with joy, love and a bit of growth toward letting down their walls to accept strangers (“Maybe Love” reprise). Gee! The corn may be a metaphor for something.
This is one you will enjoy in the moment. And afterward, you may try to remember the songs and the wonderful quips, puns and one-liners that had you chortling in the corn row aisles of the audience. For the deeper meanings and references to our time, perhaps you should see it twice. They are cleverly woven into the themes amd strike fire for their currency.
Shucked runs with an end date in September at the Nederlander Theatre (208 West 41st St.). For tickets go to their website: https://shuckedmusical.com/