If you had told me a few months ago that I would spend two hours and change laughing hysterically at a cheesy, corny new musical reportedly inspired by the classic TV show Hee-Haw, I would have looked at you with one eyebrow arched well above my head.
But Shucked, the new musical with a book by Robert Horn and score by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, manages to be ridiculously silly and fun at the same time. The show never takes itself very seriously and just focuses on easy laughs — and some days, easy laughs are exactly what’s needed.
The story, such as it is, combines elements of The Music Man, 110 in the Shade and Oklahoma! with a generous dose of variety show humor. When the corn in Cob County starts dying, plucky Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler) postpones her wedding to Beau (Andrew Durand) to find a solution. In exotic, sophisticated Tampa, she finds conman Gordy (John Behlmann) and, believing he can help save her community, brings him back home, setting up romantic complications for everyone.
It’s about as deep as a puddle, but the story here is really an afterthought. The gags and the puns are front and center, and those who love gags and puns will find plenty to enjoy. The songs, if not terribly remarkable, are similarly enjoyable. A highlight of the evening is the anthem “Independently Owned,” performed by Alex Newell as Maizy’s outspoken cousin Lulu, defiantly defending her decision to remain single. (Is there any doubt that Lulu will have a ring on her finger by the end of the evening? Come on. It’s a musical comedy.)
Newell steals every moment they are onstage as Lulu, effortlessly commanding attention even when standing still. (Of course, when they’re singing, they’re even better.) Innerbichler is winsome as the good-natured Maizy, but her character is too one-note to really grow and change over the course of the evening. She starts out naïve and stubborn and ends up still stubborn and only a little less naïve. Likewise, Durand scores some laughs as the good-hearted and aptly named Beau, but the character never really grows or changes. As the Harold Hill-esque conman who comes between them, Behlmann nicely balances slimy with charming. As Beau’s philosophical brother Peanut, Kevin Cahoon gets the lion’s share of the evening’s puns and knows how to work them, earning genuine laughs that might otherwise have just been groans.
Jack O’Brien’s direction keeps the energy up and the mood lively, evoking the classic TV series and old-fashioned slapstick comedies. Sarah O’Gleby’s choreography is similarly energetic and fun. Scott Pask’s set evokes a rural barn, but the odd angles of the structure make everything seem somewhat off-center—perhaps signifying a deliberate shift from traditional musical comedies, or perhaps just trying to be different. Japhy Weideman’s lights nicely accentuate the mood from scene to scene.
Shucked is certainly not a great musical, but it is often fun, and it offers a nice balance to the more cerebral fare that can frequently be found on the main stem. Some days, you want the wit and wisdom of Tom Stoppard, and some days, some groanworthy puns are just what’s needed. There’s room enough for all.