A Corn-U-Copia of Fun
BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE
Given the state of the world right now, wow, do we need a good laugh, and you’ll find it in the most unlikely—but stupendously entertaining—original musical on Broadway called Shucked.
I can only imagine what the pitches have been like: “We’ve got some Brigadoon, some 110 in the Shade, a classic love triangle, bits pulled from any number of P.G. Wodehouse and Jerome Kern shows form the 1920s, and we’ve run it all through the sensibility of the TV show Hee-Haw. Sounds like a winner, right? It just proves the old axiom: you never know where a hit is going to come from.
With this corny concept in the hands of Robert Horn (book) and Brandy Clark and Shane McNally (music and lyrics), Shucked is an absolute joy from beginning to end. You won’t realize how much you’ve needed to laugh like that until you find yourself hoarse and with tears running down your face from the hilarity. What a joy simply to be silly.
Yet, there’s a lot more than silliness going on. The country-inflected score is infections with sophisticated orchestrations by Jason Howland. Sarah O’Gelby’s choreography is athletic, creative and eye-popping, and Jack O’Brien’s direction finds every kernel of comedy and fine tunes them till they pop. Confronted with so much genius in the creative team, you can just sit back and revel in all the riotous, ridiculous fun on the stage. And, yes, it’s over-the-top, and some of the jokes are real groaners, but there are also some really touching moments and a spectacular cast, so this is the perfect Broadway escape for our troubled times. And before we go on, here’s the thing about those groaner jokes: they’re original, surprising, and sometimes bawdy, but they’re all delivered with infectious innocence that can lighten even the darkest twist.
The plot concerns the people of Cobb County who have been walled off from the world by their cornfields for generations. (Brigadoon). Corn is everything to
these people. When the corn dies and no one knows what to do, the intrepid young woman Maizy decides to go to the outside world and get help. She ends up in another unlikely place where she meets Gordy, a con man on the lam and brings him back to Cobb County when he says he can solve their problem. (100 in the Shade). Wilting corn isn’t the only problem. Maizy has been destined to marry farmer Beau since they were kids, but the failure of the crop put that on hold. Gordy, though, is a sexy salesman, and Maizy falls for him, upending Beau’s plans. Meanwhile, Maizy’s cousin LuLu doesn’t trust this outsider, which divides the cousins. Beau, his brother Peanut and the townsmen set out to make things right, and Gordy thinks he can steal some valuable, rare rocks unique to the county and get out of town before he has to marry Maizy. Yes, it all works out in the end, and the entire story is told as a flashback from two characters called Storyteller 1 and Storyteller 2, which allows them to break the fourth wall, often to wonderful effect. To say more would ruin the fun.
This is easily one of the most exuberant young companies on Broadway right now. Like many current shows, the cast is widely diverse—which even lends itself to one pointed, meta joke. Ashley D. Kelly and Grey Henson as Storytellers 1 and 2, respectively, have a perfect balance of sweetness and edge, impeccable comic timing and winning presence. John Behlmann as Gordy is the perfect handsome outsider, but he’s also appealingly goofy, and has the type of obligatory number (straight out of Gilbert & Sullivan) where he lets us know what a heel he is. (“Bad.”) Kevin Cahoon as Peanut delivers a lot of the gags, and part of their charm—and a trope of this show—is how they’re shoehorned into the scenes. Andrew Durand is charismatic as Beau, and Caroline Innerbichler is sensational as Maizy. These two mega-talented performers somehow manage to be the classic troubled couple of musicals and completely contemporary; they’re the perfect semi-ironic romantic leads for our time. Alex Newell as LuLu, the conscience of the town, however, stops the show with a number called “Independently Owned” in which she claims her place and takes no prisoners. Newell herself claimed her place as a Broadway star (and a force of nature) in Once On This Island when she stopped that show too with “Mama Will Provide.”
One of the truly fascinating things about Shucked is how little was known about it before it opened, almost as if it stalked on to Broadway. Advance quotes were all made up and comical, so early audiences went into it tabula rasa, as they say. Now that it’s here, let’s hope it sticks around through more than a few seasons of musical crops, but don’t wait to get your tickets to this “remar-cob-le” show.
208 West 41st Street
Tues, Thurs 7 p.m.; Weds 2 & 7:30 p.m.; Fri, Sat 8 p.m.; Sat 2 p.m.; Sun 3 p.m.
Tickets from $69 at Ticketmaster
2 hours 15 minutes, 1 intermission
Production photos by Emilio Modrid
Published April 17, 2023