Theater Review: Pioneer Theatre Company's SHUCKED | Buzz Blog
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Monday, October 31, 2022

Theater Review: Pioneer Theatre Company's SHUCKED

New musical-comedy's pre-Broadway tryout proves delightfully not in need of fixing

Posted By on October 31, 2022, 10:15 AM

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click to enlarge John Behlmann, Alex Newell Caroline Innerbichler and Andrew Durand in Shucked - COURTESY PIONEER THEATRE COMPANY
  • Courtesy Pioneer Theatre Company
  • John Behlmann, Alex Newell Caroline Innerbichler and Andrew Durand in Shucked
The “out-of-town tryout” has been a staple of Broadway show development for an eternity, built on the premise that a brand-new production needs someplace to work out the kinks before heading to the American theater’s biggest showcase. It’s a common-sense approach, until you encounter something like Shucked, a crowd-pleasing delight that inspires the question, “What in the world could need fixing?”

This original musical-comedy—with a book by Tony Award winning Tootsie writer Robert Horn and songs by veteran Nashville composers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally—faces the challenge of being an entirely original concept, without an established, popular story to drive audience interest. That means even more pressure on the creative team to deliver something that works entirely on its own merits, and the degree to which Shucked succeeds under those conditions is remarkable.

It's set up from the outset as a fable, with a pair of storytellers (Ashley D. Kelley and Taylor Trensch) introducing the audience to the rural community of Cob County, which has long been isolated from the rest of the world by a wall of the corn that drives its economy. When the corn crop begins to fail, however, a crisis ensues, inspiring young Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler) to venture out into the wide world, leaving behind her fiancé Beau (Andrew Durand) to find someone with the expertise to save Cob County’s corn.

The “corn doctor” that Maizy finds is actually con-man/podiatrist Gordy (John Behlmann), kicking off a premise with more than a faint whisper of The Music Man, as Gordy tries to fleece the local yokels to help pay off his gambling debts. Shucked winds in and out of the advantages and disadvantage of a set-in-its-ways community, in a way that doesn’t merely set up the Cob County-ites as ignorant punch lines, playing fair to the extent that whatever moral there is to the story about cloistered community ultimately feels kind of beside the point.

The real point is laughs, and Shucked keeps delivering them at a staggering clip. Horn leans into humor based on puns and folksy aphorisms, winking frequently at the audience for being on the same dad-joke wavelength as Beau’s quirky brother Peanut (Kevin Cahoon). To a certain extent, Shucked does depend upon you being on that wavelength, more willing to laugh along than groan and shake your head, but the sheer pace of the punch lines guarantees that if you didn’t love the previous gag, just a wait a few seconds.

And beyond the jokes—delivered with pinpoint timing by a terrific cast—there are the tunes, which almost uniformly work both as story-driving components and songs that would stand alone on a showtunes playlist. It’s simply an all-killer, no-filler lineup, from the ensemble opener “Corn” to the plaintive love song “Maybe Love” to the knockout show-stopper “Independently Owned” delivered by Maizy’s worldly-wise cousin Lulu (standout performer Alex Newell). While it’s not the only way a musical can work to be filled with earwormy numbers that you can’t wait to hear again, it sure as hell doesn’t hurt.

Taking place entirely against the backdrop of a geometrically-wonky barn, Shucked certainly clues you in from the outset that things will be a little askew in its unabashedly corny storytelling. But it’s also full of professional precision, like the terrifically staged sequence by director Jack O’Brien in which Gordy simultaneously fields two poor-cell-reception phone calls. The version of this show that winds up on Broadway a little bit down the road might end up tweaking a joke here and there, but nobody needs to lose sleep over whether a page-one rewrite is needed to make it a winner. You’ve got terrifically funny, you’ve got instantly hummable, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. CW

Shucked runs through Nov. 12 at Pioneer Memorial Theatre; visit pioneertheatre.org for tickets and showtimes.

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