No one will blame you if you leave the Nederlander Theatre and immediately run to the nearest bathroom… to write “For a good time, call 1-800-SHUCKED.” Of course, doing that won’t sell any tickets to this hilarious, tuneful and sweet-natured fable, so you may just have to tell all your friends in person – and hope they’re all ears!
I’ll try to limit the corn puns – I don’t want any of you stalking me -- but it’s hard when they form the basis of Robert Horn’s laugh-out-loud script. In fact, it seems like Horn has blown entire his load of one-liners, double-entendres and dad jokes on this one show. Luckily, most of them are brilliantly delivered – especially by two of the musical’s characters.
The first is the unnamed “Storyteller 2,” one of the narrators of this “farm-to-fable” portrayed by the absolutely adorable Grey Henson. He seems on the verge of cracking himself (and everyone else) up every time he opens his mouth to toss out one of these zippy zingers. (Storyteller 1, played by the winning Ashley D. Kelley, is literally and figuratively the straight woman here!)
The second jokester is the unapologetically (if unacknowledged) gay Peanut, played by the priceless Kevin Cahoon in an award-worthy turn. The sweet-natured Peanut is just one of the remaining residents of tiny Cob County (rendered here by Scott Pask’s spectacular wooden barn, which has clearly seen a twister or two), a Brigadoon-like place that no one ever comes into – or leaves.
Well, that is until the spunky Maizy (a charming Caroline Innerbichler, reminiscent of a young Reba McEntire) -- right in the middle of her wedding to her longtime beau Beau (a wonderful Andrew Durand) – notices that the town’s corn is suddenly dying. Overriding the wishes of Beau, her feisty cousin Lulu (the spectacular Alex Newell) and everyone else in Cob County, she decides to go in search of a cure for the drooping corn. (Oh, by the way, just because you can cure a ham doesn’t make you a doctor!)
Somehow, she ends up in Tampa, where she magically finds a “corn doctor” – a con man named Gordy Jackson (John Behlmann, not quite sleazy or charming enough) who owes a major debt – that he can’t pay back -- to a gangster named Big Willie. He agrees to come to Cob County after being informed that the rocks on Maizy’s bracelet are super-valuable gemstones. (Actually, there ends up not being a kernel of truth to that assessment!)
Soon enough, there’s a romantic quadrangle among Maizy, Gordy, Beau and, somewhat surprisingly, Lulu, who has previously announced in the show-stopping “Independently Owned” (which earned Newell a well-deserved mid-show standing ovation) that she thinks sleeping alone is underrated and that a corn cob and some batteries are all the company she needs.
That terrific tune not only pops, but it’s just one highlight of a decidedly pleasing score by the Grammy-winning country songwriters Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. The pair have found a winning formula that smartly mixes the sounds of Broadway and Nashville, especially in such ballads as Beau’s defiant “Somebody Will,” and Maizy’s “Walls” and “Maybe Love.” I won’t be surprised if these songs are covered by the likes of Luke Bryan or Carrie Underwood (or if some country superstar eventually steps into the show!)
The veteran director Jack O’Brien has staged the show with finesse, knowing exactly when to let his storytellers break the fourth wall and when to immerse us back into the story. He is aided by Sarah O’ Gleby, whose cornography – I mean choreography – is quite clever when it needs to be, and never less than serviceable.
“Shucked” is hardly the most profound musical of the season nor the most groundbreaking. It is, as is freely admitted, “corny.” But it will cause you to have a big smile on your face – and nothing in your teeth – for two hours. That’s a win-win in my book!
By Brian Scott Lipton
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