When two teenagers fall in love and kill themselves because their families can’t get along, everyone agrees that it’s a tragedy. Comedy is not so universal; everyone has a different sense of humor and what some people find absolutely sidesplitting can elicit eye rolls and groans from others. Such is the case for the new musical comedy Shucked, which had many in the audience at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre screaming with laughter at the performance I attended, as I sat silently shaking my head and checking my watch.
Taking its initial inspiration from the TV country music/skit comedy variety show Hee Haw, which ran on CBS from 1969-71, the original work, with a book by Tony winner Robert Horn and music and lyrics by Grammy and CMA winners Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, has since evolved into a sappy narrative set in rural America, with a plot based in corn farming, filled with an insular group of country bumpkins who never leave Cob County, and loaded with a nearly non-stop barrage of puerile potty humor, juvenile sexual innuendo, and corny puns and one-liners, under the relentless rapid-fire direction of Tony winner Jack O’Brien. But then again, I cringe when I hear anyone say “y’all” (you is already plural), which, thankfully, no one in the show did.
Opening with the metatheatrical device of two current well-spoken Storytellers (played by Ashley D. Kelley and Grey Henson, who appear throughout the performance and tie it together at the end) casually addressing the audience and singing the introductory song about – you guessed it – “Corn,” the “farm to fable” narrative centers on childhood sweethearts Maizy (get it?) and Beau (Caroline Innerbichler and Andrew Durand), whose simple wedding by the barn, officiated by his dimwitted brother Peanut (Kevin Cahoon), prone to sharing vapid and vulgar observations (e.g., “I just passed a huge squirrel, which is odd, because I don’t remember eating one”), comes to an abrupt halt when the surrounding crops of corn begin to droop.
No one there knows what to do, so to save the town, Maizy makes the bold and unpopular decision to seek outside help in the big scary city. When she arrives in Tampa (!), she finds Gordy (John Behlmann) – a debt-ridden con-artist posing as a podiatrist, whose sign says he’s a Corn Doctor (groan) – and hopes he will go back with her to help with the “unsolved mystery” (“Which in fact, are just mysteries,” as noted by Storyteller 2, in one of the show’s more incisive and wittier lines). After seeing the bracelet her grandfather made for her out of local (and potentially valuable) stones that washed up under the family’s house, Gordy agrees, the scam is on, they kiss, and her engagement to Beau is over, but her strong and liberated BFF cousin Lulu (Alex Newell) isn’t as trusting of the good-looking stranger as she is. Oh, don’t worry; it’s a corny musical so of course there’s a happy ending. Well maybe not so much for Lulu, who uncharacteristically forgoes her outspoken feminist independence for the most inexplicable attraction.
The entire cast is fully committed to the story and its parodic characters and delivers the intended laughs with all-out comedic skill. They also bring their masterful voices to the songs, which range in style from silly country western ditties to emotive romantic ballads and powerful personal anthems, most notably Newell’s showstopper “Independently Owned” (referencing not just her corn-whiskey business but her self-possessed attitude). And the scenes of handheld dancing corn cobs, Broadway chorus lines (???), and Durand balancing on rolling barrels and planks (choreography by Sarah O’Gleby) are the most energetic and entertaining scenes of the show.
Scott Pask’s scenic design, with a ramshackle bi-level barn and animated stalks of corn that wither and rejuvenate, sets the farm-country locale, as do the Cob County costumes by Tilly Grimes, which contrast with Gordy’s slick and tasteless suit. And Japhy Weideman’s colorful saturated lighting adds an over-the-top visual element in keeping with the show’s immoderate brand of comedy.
If you’re a fan of cornpone jokes, ribald puns, and toilet humor, you might find Shucked hilarious. If not, you’ll be questioning what the shuck you’re doing there.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.
Shucked plays through Sunday, January 14, 2024, at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $59.75-247, plus fees), call (212) 921-8000, or go online. Masks are not required but are recommended.