Kevin Cahoon taps into his hometown heart in 'Shucked' on Broadway

This interview is part of New York Theatre Guide's Road to the Tonys series on artists whose unique or long journeys with their show culminated in a nomination.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

When 2023 Tony Award nominee Kevin Cahoon joined the musical Shucked in 2015, it wasn't called Shucked. It was a completely different show called Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical and Cahoon played Junior Junior, a small-town "idiot savant" (per a Variety review) always on hand for slyly world-wise observations cloaked in puns and a dim-witted demeanor.

The Texas native's journey with the show ironically began in New York. After seeing an audition notice for Moonshine in the New York Post, he immediately thought, "There's a spot in that world for me." His agents couldn't land him an audition, but at 1 a.m. in the cowboy-themed Hell's Kitchen bar Flaming Saddles, Cahoon mentioned the audition to a friend who said, "Let me text the casting office and see if I can get you in."

The next day, Cahoon was given an appointment. "That night, my friend was in the hospital having a procedure," he remembered. "I went to visit my friend in the hospital with those sides, and I said, 'You have to run the sides with me because I have this audition!'"

"It was funnier and more heartfelt than any material that I had ever auditioned with," he added.

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A lot has changed since that show made its world premiere in Dallas. The creative team — book writer Robert Horn, composers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, and director Jack O'Brien, all Tony-nominated — gave the musical a new title and an original story. Farmgirl Maizy ventures out of her insular, corn-walled town for help when the crop starts dying, opening everyone's eyes to the outside world. Romance, cons, and a shuck-ton of corn jokes ensue — and nine Tony nominations, including Best Musical, cropped up in 2023 as a result.

Cahoon has seen his character grow and change, too. His name is now Peanut, and he's "the town theologian. He marries people. He buries people. He's the watchdog... he's also the county clerk, and he's got a radio station, and he just does it all," Cahoon said.

But amid all that, one thing has remained the same throughout Cahoon's entire journey: He's still the accidental philosopher. Horn always envisioned Peanut as the "town Yoda" — a concept that was news to Cahoon until this interview. (Cahoon joked that Horn probably feared he'd do the voice on stage.)

Even with a plain, non-Yoda-fied country accent, Cahoon's versatility and charming delivery of lines like "if I had a crystal ball, I'd probably walk real different" earned him a Tony nod for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. It's his first nomination in his 30-year Broadway career, adding an extra kernel of significance to the show that marks his first Broadway gig in 17 years, since 2006's The Wedding Singer.

Of course, that was in part because he was halfway across the country with Shucked for a time. The musical has always been special to Cahoon, a Texas native: "[I'm] from a rodeo background, so I know the people — my kinfolk are scattered all over that state!" Cahoon said.

Though Peanut is best known for his fount of one-liners, he has a heart as gold as corn — he's family-oriented, loyal, and sensitive. Cahoon hopes to honor his hometown family and friends, who shaped Cahoon by demonstrating those same qualities, through the character.

"I hope that I bring heart and empathy and understanding and loyalty," he said. "I hope that I bring those aspects of myself to Peanut."

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Read more Road to the Tonys interviews with 2023 Tony Award nominees.

Top image credit: Kevin Cahoon. (Photo by Emilio Madrid) In-article image credit: The cast of Shucked. (Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

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