Wednesday, April 5, 2023

My Review of Shucked is Up

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Petticoat Junction Updated with Laughs and Heart

I walked in assuming Shucked was not a play for me. I wanted Salvador Dali meets Dolly Parton even knowing that was too much of an ask. Shucked is more of “psychedelic Hee Haw” than Dali, but the absurdist take on the story works great. Beautiful voices, funny jokes, and great camp, make Shucked an absolute delight. Honest.

The story is simple. A hamlet sits in the middle of giant corn fields where no one goes in or out of the town. Corn is the lifeblood of this town. And it is expressed in song, dance, and jokes. Then, one day, the corn crop withers. A young woman leaves the town and seeks out a “corn expert”. She finds a con-artist and brings him back to town. Hijinks ensue, true love is discovered and rediscovered, much is made about family and acceptance by a multi racial cast.

Ashley D. Kelly and Grey Henson bring in the corn and laughs

The cast is disparate in looks and voice. This is important because the songs were written by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. They are experienced song writers primarily in country music field,  but their song writing encompasses nearly every genre in this candy colored musical. The set itself is skewed; off-center and leaning it looks like it's going to tip over any minute.

The spunky young woman who leaves Cob County to find a corn expert is Maizy, played with eager earnest wit by Caroline Innerbichler. She has a sweet country voice and Maizy has some spitfire in her. When her fiancé Beau (the always great Andrew Durand) forbids Maizy from leaving, she packs and goes anyway. Beau delivers a few great tunes in rockabilly to share his heartache.

In the big city of Tampa, she meets Gordy (John Behlmann doing his best slimy city slicker routine), who is a corn doctor. She doesn’t realize that Gordy’s “corn” expertise is limited to picking up rich clients as their podiatrist. She brings him back to Cob County where Beau and Maizy’s cousin Lulu  simmer in distrust.

Skeptical cousin Lulu is played by a fantastic Alex Newell. Her song “independently Owned” brings the house down. She sings with humor, heart and pair of lungs that are hard to beat. Ultimately Lulu ends up in love with Gordy and Maizy ends up back with Beau. None of this is exactly surprising, but that summary does not do the play justice. 

Alex Newell - a showstopper

Beau’s brother is Peanut. A hilarious turn by Kevin Cahoon who seems to channel Jeff Foxworthy and Bill Engvall to give Shucked some good ol' country humor. His jokes pop up out of the blue leaving the audience roaring. His style is reminiscent of Phyllis Diller where the jokes come so rapid fire that you are bound to be overwhelmed with laughter at some point.

The final two characters of the show are Storyteller 1 and 2 – Ashley D. Kelly and Grey Henson. They steer us through the show, providing background and humor. Sometimes that humor is laugh out loud funny, sometimes the jokes are groaners. Storyteller number 2 (Henson) might take a bit of getting used to. He plays a very stereotypical gay man, and the audience starts wondering if he is the butt of a joke. Instead, he turns out to be one of the funniest performers in the show, albeit Cahoon still claims top honors there.

The songs in Shucked are very good but were a bit problematic to me. They seem less like plot points and more like potential singles, complete with endings more suited to radio than Broadway or Nashville. The songs mainly work but the trailing endings have more in common in radio pop. It frustrated and confused people that were desperate to applaud.

Andrew Durand and Caroline Innerbichler

I enjoyed Shucked and had a great time. It reminded me a lot of Something Rotten! Another show that defied expectations with wit, surprising songs, and great overacting. The book for Shucked was written by Robert Horn who brings a heap of jokes to the Nederlander Theater. Director Jack O’Brian keeps a lot of balls in the air to keep the show from tipping into meanspirited parody. 

Shucked

PlaywrightRobert Horn | Music and LyricsShane McAnally & Brandy Clark | DirectorRobert Horn | CastJohn Behlmann, Kevin Cahoon, Andrew Durand, Grey Henson, Caoline Innerbichler, Ashley D. Kelly, Alex Newel

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