Shucked Review - Broadway musical“Shucked” is corny. Corn is what the corn-growing townsfolk of Cob County sing about from the opening number of this new country-flavored Broadway musical; it’s the subject of the “farm to fable” plot, involving a con man masquerading as a “corn doctor.” Above all, many of its jokes are corny.
This is not surprising if you know that the creative team behind “Shucked” initially intended to adapt the old TV show “Hee Haw,” which was like “Laugh-In” in overalls — a variety hour produced in Nashville that was set in fictional Kornfield Kounty and featured country music and sketches full of cornpone humor. Viewers of “Hee Haw,” which aired for twenty-five seasons starting in 1969 and two decades more in reruns, will feel at home with Scott Park’s set for “Shucked” of the inside of a barn and of a cornfield.
What might come as a surprise in “Shucked” is the sheer volume and variety of jokes — corny, sure, but also clever, crass, questionable and surreal: silly one-liners, crafty wordplay, groan-inducing puns, borderline dirty jokes (“I grew up so poor that if I hadn’t been a boy, I’d have had nothing to play with.”) There is even one mildly political quip, and some running shtick. Every time the character Peanut (Kevin Cahoon) is asked what he thinks about some dilemma facing the town or its characters, he prefaces his reaction with a string of out-of-nowhere loopy observations, e.g: “I think if your lawyer has a ponytail on his chin, you’re probably goin’ to prison. I think if you can pick up your dog with one hand, you own a cat. I think people in China must wonder what to call their good plates. And I think we need answers.”
Only one of Peanut’s three jokes in that particular line works for me (about the China), and I’d say that’s more or less the average for the whole show: About one-third of the jokes land — and most (like Peanut’s) come out of nowhere, having nothing to do with the story or its characters. But that’s a whole lot of jokes! Indeed, the barrage of jokes dominates “Shucked.” They hit the spot more often than the score by successful country music songwriters Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, which I found memorable precisely once, in the rousing showstopper “Independently Owned,” by Alex Newell, who portrays Lulu, the town’s maker of moonshine. The jokes as a whole are far more engaging than the plot, which is a thin concoction with hints of “The Music Man,” “Urinetown,” and “L’il Abner.”
Two storytellers, Ashley D. Kelley and Grey Henson, narrate the fable, about the long-isolated town separated from the rest of the world by a wall of corn. In the middle of the wedding between Maizy (Audrey Cardwell) and Beau (Andrew Durand), the corn starts dying. Maizy, alarmed, stops the ceremony, and eventually decides to leave the town for the first time in her life to seek help. She winds up in Tampa. (Storytellers: “It was a humid wonderland of welcoming Tamponians. And one douchebag.”) There she meets Gordy (John Behlmann) who comes from a family of con artists, and whose current scam is to pretend to be a podiatrist. She sees that he’s a “corn doctor” and, misunderstanding, asks him for help. Gordy sees a new opportunity for a grift, for reasons that are too stupid to explain, and he accompanies her back to Cob County. This sets in motion the main action of Act II, the romantic complications involving Maizy, Beau, Lulu and Gordy.
The cast is undeniably full of pros, and if nobody particularly stands out except Newell, they all seem to be enjoying themselves, which feels like an invitation for us to do the same.
At one point, Beau says “We may be simple folks, but there’s a cornfield of difference between simple and stupid.” “Shucked” probably deserves some credit for mostly avoiding stereotypes, largely steering clear of jokes at its characters’ expense. But I squirmed when Kelley and Henson portrayed two “non-reputable” jewelers who “were notorious for their imports, exports and delicious knishes” and who use the Yiddish endearment “bubeleh.” I realize this gratuitous allusion to Jews was surely just an awkward effort to plug into Broadway culture (which I’ve seen Broadway newcomers attempt previously.) Indeed, earlier, in the opening ode to corn, there was a repeated musical refrain “Bring it to a bris/a wedding/or a funeral.” But, given the implicit red state environment of the show and what’s happening in the world right now, I guess I expected better from librettist Robert Horn, who’s not a newcomer to Broadway, but a Tony winner for the book of “Tootsie.” At such moments, I wished “Shucked” were as simple and open-hearted as its small town characters are supposed to be.
Last Update:September, 26th 2023