Who says you can’t do a show with country music on Broadway? You probably know every word of “Oklahoma!” The Mark Twain musical “Big River” won seven Tonys. And “Annie Get Your Gun” was a big ol’ hit, especially the countrified revival with Reba McEntire. And now, a brand-new country-themed musical about corn is ready to pop.
“Shucked,” which opens Tuesday, is that rarest of birds on Broadway: a completely original production not based on a movie or, really, anything else. It’s the story of a small town closed off from society by cornfields. But when the corn starts suddenly dying, one brave soul goes to the big city for help, and a musical happens.
The show started out as a nod to the old TV program “Hee Haw,” but after more than ten years and a few complete overhauls, it’s ready to stand on its own.
Caroline Innerbichler, who plays the heroine Maizy, said a Broadway show with country music makes perfect sense: “Because country music, I’ve always felt, is the closest thing, other than Broadway, to Broadway, ’cause it’s all about storytelling.”
Caroline Innerbichler performs “Woman of the World,” from “Shucked”:
Alex Newell, who plays Maizy’s cousin, Lulu, said the genre is a first for her: “I’ve done dance music, I’ve done Broadway, I’ve done jazz standards. I’ve done everything under the umbrella but country music.”
It helps that the duo behind the music has some pretty impressive credentials. Brandy Clark, who herself grew up in a small town in Washington State, has written hits for the biggest stars in country, and has an album she made with Brandi Carlisle coming out soon. Her writing partner on “Shucked” is Shane McAnally, also one of the biggest songwriters in Music City. He’s got three Grammys and a slew of other awards, but one of the things he says he cherishes the most is working with Brandy Clark.
They clicked from the moment they met many, many hit songs ago: “It was like lightning struck,” McAnally said.
Their music is key, but the sound you hear most often at a “Shucked” performance is laughter. A lot of the jokes are pretty edgy, and it’s easy to see why: the book writer, Robert Horn, used to write for the hit show “Designing Women.”
Smith asked, “You can kind of sense that there’s a little ‘Designing Women’ in this?”
“There’s a little ‘Designing Women’ in all of us, you have to say!” Horn laughed.
Back then, his comedy formula was simple: “I used to say, ‘I’m gonna write it Jewish, and you’re gonna say it Southern.’ That was the joke,” he said. “And it did work, yes.”
For composers Clark and McAnally, it’s the end of a long and emotional road, watching the show come to life: “We sit together every night through these previews,” McAnally said. “Alex Newell sings a song called ‘Independently Owned’ in the middle of the first act, and received a standing ovation in the middle of the act. I’m a former addict. I have tried everything that I like many times over. And I just looked at [Brandy] and said, ‘This is like no high I have ever experienced.'”
Clark said, “A couple of nights ago, I just had this overwhelming feeling. I was looking at the barn, and Shane and I were sitting there, and I was like, ‘This is so weird for me to say this to you right now, but I just love you so much.’ Because that is how I feel when we’re sitting there. Like, even though we’re not a couple, it is like we have this child.”
And the hope is that their child will be something Broadway, and the rest of us, could probably use right about now: a freewheeling, knee-slapping bundle of joy.
Alex Newell said, “There are a lot of heavy shows. And we need heavy shows. We love, we thrive off of heavy shows. But sometimes you just need to do a little laughing. Sometimes you just need to let that go and have a guffaw. We’ve been inside for so long and we forgot that joy can exist.”
To hear Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally perform “Maybe Love” from “Shucked” click on the video player below:
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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Steven Tyler.