“Shucked” with country music sounds is more clever and witty than corny

By Lucy Komisar

Andrew Durand center as Beau and men of the corn town, photo Mathew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.

It’s a funny hokey clever story that catches you unawares with its smarts. Because it’s about corn. Which the folks in the story grow and is at the center of their lives. The residents of this corn town have chosen to be cut off from the world. They live in a huge wooded space and celebrate a chicken’s birthday and goats getting married.

Alex Newell as Lulu, photo Mathew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman

The book is by comic writer Robert Horn, who did “Tootsie,” “Moonshine” and more.

They like puns and jokes: a paper airplane that doesn’t fly is just stationa(e)ry. People in China must wonder what to call their good plates. Beat. Ahh! Pilgrims escaping Puritan oppression landed in unclaimed land. “My parents moved around a lot. Sure, I always found them.”

Meanwhile, the enterprising Lulu (Alex Newell), the corn whiskey maker, has a raving success and also bellows out terrific R&B sounds. (The mostly country music and plot-centric lyrics are by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally.)

Crisis arrives with a corn blight. The issue is whether the folks should endanger their bucolic lives by letting the outside in in search of a cure. Somehow, director Jack O’Brien makes this all seem plausible.

Redhead Caroline Innerbichler as Maizy, photo Mathew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.

Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler, with a delightful country-style singing voice), tough but wide-eyed and naïve (and a fan of Lulu’s corn liquor), decides to investigate what the outside world might know, and – leaving her impending marriage to Beau (Andre Durand) — goes to Tampa. Why Tampa is never explained. Except, “if you can’t afford Orlando or Atlanta.”

She is pulled in by a sign advertising corn plasters and ends up with a conman, Gordy (John Behlmann).

Alex Newell as Lulu, Caroline Innerbichler as Maizy, Kevin Cahoon as Peanut, and Andrew Durand as Beau, photo Mathew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.

She invites Gordy to corn country where he appears to use his magic to make the corn grow. Till Beau pulls off a husk and discovers the label, “Whole Foods.”

The backstory is Gordy saw the very valuable ruby red stone on Maizy’s necklace. He plots to steal the rocks from whence it came and tells the townspeople the corn was dying because of the rocks.

Ashley D. Kelley as Storyteller 1 and Grey Henson as Storyteller 2, photo Mathew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.

But (spoiler alert) at a crucial moment Maizy (not as dumb as you think) pulls the catalytic converter out of the car he was about to load with the valuable stones.

Fast forward to the narrators who turn out to be cousins. Which relates to some past genealogy. Take note of the town’s redheads.

Another spoiler alert, it will all turn out fine. Lulu gets in a good line: “Opinions are like orgasms. Mine matter most, and I don’t really care if you have one.” But accept my opinion that you will love this play.

Shucked.” Book by Robert Horn, music and lyrics by Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, directed by Jack O’Brien, choreographed by Sarah O’Gleby. Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street, NYC. Runtime 2hrs15. Opened April 4, 2023. Open run. Review on NY Theatre Wire.

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