'Shucked' review — the countrified, comedic cream of the crop
Read our four-star review of the new Broadway musical comedy Shucked, which features a book by Tony Award winner Robert Horn and plays the Nederlander Theatre.
Storytellers have long looked to cornfields for ideas. Field of Dreams turned them into heaven. Evil lurked amid the rows in Children of the Corn. Now, in the deliriously dopey countrified musical comedy Shucked, corn is cause for nonstop funny business — and some terrifically catchy tunes.
Credit the creative team for recognizing there’s more than a kernel of truth in the adage about knowing oneself. They are fully aware their show is wall-to-wall silliness, and they embrace that concept whole-hog. Even when the goings turn sappy, another pun, punchline, or double entendre awaits.
Do the jokes yield diminishing returns over the show’s two hours? Yep, they do. But are you apt to have such a good time that you won’t mind? Yep, you will.
Tag-team narrators, played with know-how by Ashley D. Kelley and Mean Girls Tony-nominee Grey Henson, pop in and out to set the scene. The show is a fable – “a farm to fable” – set in Cob County, a community tucked inside cornfield walls. Sure, residents know of the outside world; they just want no part of it.
Things change. Lovebirds Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler, like butter in her Broadway debut) and her farmer fiance Beau (an adorable Andrew Durand) are exchanging "I do"s at a ceremony officiated by his brother Peanut (Kevin Cahoon, who’s a kick) — but disaster strikes. The corn suddenly turns moldy.
Despite naysayers, including Beau, Maizy leaves town to find help, singing the tune “Woman of the World.” In a goofy twist, she meets Gordy (John Behlmann), a con man posing as a podiatrist – a "corn doctor," get it? – who captures Maizy’s fancy. He’s drawn to her stone bracelet. He accompanies her to Cob County, ostensibly to save the crops, but he’s out to swipe the precious gems found there.
An old-school musical like this is bound to have a romantic subplot or two. Hence, Maizy is torn between Beau and Gordy. But her whiskey-brewing cousin and BFF Lulu (Alex Newell, a powerhouse singer) reconfigures the geometry of the romantic triangle. One guess how it all works out.
The show is buoyed along on easy-to-like songs by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, who are new to Broadway but stars in country music. They’re adept at novelty numbers – like the opener, “Corn” – and songs that run a tad deeper, including the tender “Maybe Love” and the optimistic “Somebody Will.” “That’s How You Say 'I Do,'” shared by three couples, is a bouncy winner.
At one point during Shucked's development, it was set to riff on the vintage TV variety show Hee Haw. About a decade later, “hee haw” is just a passing song lyric.
The songwriters have an ace collaborator in author Robert Horn, who won a Tony for his book for Tootsie. For Shucked, he’s crafted an LOL mashup of new side-splitters and oldies but goodies. Toying sexily with Gordy, Lulu says, “I may not have my virginity, but I still have the box it came in.” Zing! Who doesn’t like corn with a pinch of salt?
A sense of fun runs throughout director Jack O’Brien’s production – from set designer Scott Pask’s rough-hewn barn backed by a bright pink sky to choreographer Sarah O’Gleby’s high-spirited dance number using whiskey barrels and planks.
Shucked could never be condemned as theatrical spinach. It’s all about laughs, and it delivers – honest to cob.
Photo credit: The cast of Shucked. (Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)
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