Putting It Together, Together | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City Weekly

Putting It Together, Together 

Songwriters Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally on the teamwork of creating Shucked!

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The cast of Shucked! performs a - preview concert at Pioneer Theatre - BW PRODUCTIONS
  • BW Productions
  • The cast of Shucked! performs a preview concert at Pioneer Theatre

At first, the interviews with songwriters Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally were scheduled individually. When various nuisances got in the way—car trouble in one case, technical difficulties in another—it worked out best to speak with them jointly. And it's hard to imagine that for these two creative partners, there was any better way.

Clark and McAnally have collaborated for years, most recently on the new musical Shucked, which gets its pre-Broadway premiere at Pioneer Theatre Company before a planned New York run. The comedic tale set in rural America is an ideal setting for the two veteran country music hit-makers, who previously collaborated on a musical based on the vintage cornpone-comedy TV series Hee Haw. While each has been a successful composer and lyricist in their own right, they form a musical songwriting team that works a little differently than the traditional model of dedicated lyricist and dedicated composer.

"Shane has always said it best. We see the world the same," Clark says. "We like what each other does, and we like it enough that we can say what we don't like. We finish each other's sentences, lyrically and musically."

One of the key components to their partnership that both songwriters agree on is that having an external perspective from a trusted collaborator can help you out of that place where you start to feel that everything you're doing is repetitive. "We know our own tricks," McAnally says. "In my head it will feel like something doesn't work. But Brandy will say, 'No, that's it.'"

Similarly, Clark adds, "I don't always trust myself musically because I'm tired of myself. Shane gets it; I can cheat myself out of great things. When I do it front of him, I think, 'Eh,' and he'll say, 'I really feel something.'"

For Shucked, the third leg of their collaborative stool is Tony Award-winning writer Robert Horn (Tootsie), with whom they also worked on Moonshine: The Hee Haw Musical. According to McAnally, their working relationship has also evolved to a different level of trust in one another. "We started out years ago where Robert had an outline and said, 'This is where songs should go," he says. "As the years went on, we realized our greatest strength as a team was that we all speak the same language. He writes in the same cadence that Brandy and I write songs. So we've found a lot of advantages to all sitting together at the origin of a song."

"Robert is a very generous collaborator," Clark adds. "When we hear a line in his text that we think could be a great song, he'll be the first to say, 'Go ahead and take it'—which happened in Shucked where he had a line, 'independently owned and operated,' and that's a song now."

The experience of working on a musical previously taught them about the form, but it also taught them a lot about how they shouldn't change their own songwriting to fit the Broadway mold. "In the beginning, I think we thought we needed to be different kinds of songwriters for this," Clark says. "We've tried to write 'musical songs,' and it doesn't work."

"The reason we were hired to write this," McAnally say, "was because of what we do."

Still, there are unique components to crafting songs for a theatrical presentation. McAnally notes that it's a unique experience to hear the songs for the first time with full orchestration; "it always knocks the wind out of me," he says. And Clark observes that the "team sport" nature of a theatrical production leads to a tremendous respect for what the individual actors can bring to the interpretation of the songs.

In the case of this production of Shucked, too, there's the reality that the "out-of-town" tryout is a chance to observe the work in its full up-and-running form, learning from crowd response whether the desired response is coming in the right places, or even if additional songs might need to be added to flesh out the story. "Once you let the audience in, that's where you see what you have," Clark notes.

"We get to see an audience reaction to what's on the page," McAnally says. "But it's different when things are moving than when it's just someone reading [in a workshop form]. It's a little scary to think about distracting from what's already there. A lot of shows depend on the staging, and we have to make sure it doesn't get in the way."

Still, the experience of being in Salt Lake City, and building the first production of the show together, is one the creators don't want to miss out on in favor of looking ahead to the next phase for Shucked. "[With Moonshine], I had a lot of expectations," McAnally says. "When will this go out of town, when will it go to Broadway. I've just enjoyed this time, and working with all the people. That's what I see as the win. Making the show is the magic. As excited as we are to be headed to Broadway, once it does, that's it. It will never be like this again."

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About The Author

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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