April 7, 2023

McAnally-composed Musical “Shucked” Debuts on Broadway

Aw shucks! The cast and crew of “Shucked” celebrated the musical comedy’s opening at the Nederlander Theatre on Tuesday night.

Set in the fictional Cob County, “Shucked” follows Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler in her Broadway debut) as she leaves her small town to find a solution for the community’s rotting corn crops. The musical’s cast also includes John Behlmann, Kevin Cahoon, Andrew Durand, Grey Henson, Ashley D. Kelley and Alex Newell.

“They were like, ‘It’s just a sweet show about corn that knows exactly what it is.’ And I was like, ‘OK, what does that mean?’” Henson told Variety before the show. “But then reading the script, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a genius piece of musical theater.’”

“I considered every vegetable, but a ‘K’ sound is always funny in comedy, so I knew you could write a lot of things with corn,” book writer Robert Horn explained. “But also, it was the perfect crop because it is Heartland America — it’s taking place in Heartland America in the middle of the country, and for us, it was a great way to be able to close off from everything outside.”

Horn wrote “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of jokes for more than 10 years. “For every joke that’s in the show, there’s probably 30 or 40 that are not,” he said. “And I changed them out all the time because I get bored.”

The cast praised Horn (“Tootsie,” “13”) and director Jack O’Brien, the multi-Tony Award winner known for “Hairspray,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Porgy and Bess.”

“Jack O’Brien is a living legend, and I have been inspired by his work — like so many people have — for many years.” Innerbichler said. “Getting to pick his brain and getting to hear how he puts the truth into comedy and the reality and honesty of the human experience, even into these hilarious jokes. Finding that balance with him has made everything so much easier. He really understands how to blend honesty and comedy.”

“He’s a machine. He’ll come up, he’ll give me four new jokes a day and say, ‘Which ones do you want to flop? Switch in and flop out?’” Kahoon said of Horn. “But it’s a math, too. If the sentence is too short, it throws the rhythm off of the sequence. I hope it looks easy and fun, but it really is a science.”

On the red carpet, Behlmann and Newell recalled the first time the cast performed “Shucked” in front of an audience.

“It’s a whole other beast. When you do it in the room with just us — we all heard the jokes a million times and people still laugh — but you forget the roar of people,” Behlmann said. “Jack [O’Brien] describes it as gale force winds that you just have to brace yourself for and hold on against, and wait till the next joke comes. It’s a really wild, visceral experience that you don’t get in other kinds of shows.”

“I think a lot of us say that the audience is our third character in the musical. The timing relies on whether they laugh or not, what they react to, what they don’t react to, how they feel, how they say their lines of laughter or if they say their lines of laughter,” Newell explained. “So it was an informative kind of experience, which I loved.”

Asked what audience members can expect from the corn musical, Duran said, “People can expect to laugh a lot and hear really great music that squeezes your heart a little bit. I think it sneaks up on you with this sort of message. It’s not beaten over your head, but there’s a lot of love and laughter [that] people can expect in an unexpected way.”

Added Kelley, “A lot of joy and a lot of laughter. You will leave with better abs and very sore cheeks.”