No street to Broadway is paved, however should you’re going to try the drive, there’s one route that’s rather less gravelly than the remaining.
“Discover a model identify and dangle some music on it,” stated Broadway veteran Jack O’Brien, the Tony Award-winning director behind “Hairspray.”
Theatergoers appear to flock to the acquainted. In an age of remakes, reboots and diversifications, it’s frequent for individuals to already know the total story earlier than they see it unfold on stage. It may be tougher for newer tales to chop via.
However Robert Horn likes a problem. And as Broadway struggles to bounce again after an 18-month shutdown, with myriad reveals vying for a similar theaters, and productions getting shuttered left and proper, the playwright has fully thrown himself into an authentic musical comedy … about corn.
“Shucked” is new, however there are acquainted names behind it: Horn, who wrote the story, gained a Tony for his work on “Tootsie”; O’Brien, who’s the director, has additionally gained Tonys for his course of “Henry IV” and “The Coast of Utopia”; after which there’s the Nashville duo behind the songs — singer Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, who’ve written for a few of the largest stars within the music business, together with Kasey Musgraves, Reba McEntire and Kelly Clarkson.
This ragtag however adorned group has its sights on Broadway. It’s a particular gamble — “Shucked” doesn’t have “overwhelming bells and whistles” to cowl up the story in case it flops, O’Brien stated.
However all of them imagine the story speaks for itself. And the primary place they’re testing that idea is the Pioneer Memorial Theatre in Salt Lake Metropolis.
What’s the musical ‘Shucked’ about?
On the floor, “Shucked” is strictly about corn.
Shielded from the skin world by a tall wall of affluent corn, the individuals of Cobb County have every thing they want. They’ve zero curiosity in interacting with anybody past their golden ears of corn. However when an unknown supply threatens that livelihood, the townspeople begrudgingly settle for they might have to succeed in out for assist.
Out of this quandary emerges Maizy, the story’s unlikely heroine who travels to the large, awe-inspiring metropolis of Tampa, Florida, in the hunt for a corn physician, who she finds in a podiatrist/ineffectual con-man named Gordy Jackson.
“Shucked” is described as a fable from the outset, pushed by two storytellers who continuously break the fourth wall and have interaction with the viewers. However whereas the story is a fable, Horn didn’t need the ethical to return down on the viewers like a hammer.
“I believe individuals don’t wish to be lectured about humanity,” he stated. “They wish to see tales about humanity.”
So as an alternative, via a script that quickly delivers puns and folksy non sequiturs, and thru conventional theater music that has a rustic music twist, “Shucked” explores a variety of themes, together with the conflict of values between a small city and massive metropolis, the significance of maintaining an open thoughts, and dealing via division to attain unity.
“The story is easy, however in a sneaky method,” actor John Behlmann, who performs Gordy, stated. “If you’d like your canine to eat the drugs, you’ve received to place it into peanut butter. Only a few individuals wish to go to a present that appears like homework. And I believe this present actually goes down straightforward and folks will get rather a lot out of it.”
Horn doesn’t like evaluating one work to a different, but when he had to offer theatergoers with a body of reference, he would say “Shucked”— which he describes as “unabashedly corny and but very progressive on the identical time” — falls someplace on the spectrum between “The E book of Mormon” and “Oklahoma!”
“I actually wished to make use of this kind of traditional American humor to discover an American downside, which is division,” he stated. “Whenever you look again at a sure time in historical past, the artwork will all the time let you know what was occurring at that second in historical past. Even when it’s artwork that lasts for hundreds of years, it should all the time let you know what’s occurring at that second. And so I believe the place we’re culturally, simply within the zeitgeist proper now, we wished the story to replicate that. However we additionally wished it to be timeless. And we wished it to be humorous.
“If we are able to’t giggle, then we have now no hope.”
‘Shucked,’ a musical years within the making
Horn didn’t all the time know the story he wished to inform.
The origin of “Shucked” goes again a number of years. The musical, initially impressed by the variability present “Hee Haw,” had a short run in Dallas in 2015. It didn’t take off, and Horn moved on to different tasks — together with writing the e book for the 2018 musical comedy “Tootsie,” which earned him a Tony Award.
However “Shucked” — and particularly his collaboration with songwriters Clark and McAnally — stayed with him. There was a small seed from the story that lingered in his thoughts, and when he reconnected with Clark and McAnally, he discovered they felt the identical method.
So that they started working revamping the manufacturing. They scrapped songs, tweaked jokes, and up to date the plot to create a narrative that culturally mirrors a world the place division has been amplified by heated election cycles and a pandemic.
“The attention-grabbing factor about this present is that it by no means went away,” Horn stated. “Everyone that’s doing it proper now, it has lived in our lives, in our hearts and in our minds. We are able to’t shake it. There’s one thing in it that simply feels prefer it needs to be advised.”
As “Shucked” unfolds on the Pioneer Theatre, Horn continues to rewrite — though he can’t make any official adjustments to the manufacturing till after its Salt Lake run concludes on Nov. 12. He’s by no means been significantly connected to something in his work — “If it wants to vary, I alter it,” he stated.
“You by no means end writing till they slap the pen out of your hand.”
It’s this openness to vary — a theme that coincidentally performs out in “Shucked” — that drew Behlmann to the manufacturing. The actor met Horn when he starred in “Tootsie,” and immediately related with the author’s humor. As he received to know Horn extra, Behlmann got here to particularly admire his flexibility. And he feels the identical method about O’Brien, who has a extra hands-off strategy in directing “Shucked,” letting the performers deliver their very own interpretations to their roles.
“By all rights they might simply inform us to close up and do the traces as they wrote them, however that’s been the precise reverse of every thing,” Behlmann stated. “And it’s actually, I believe, formed the story fantastically. You don’t actually get a whole lot of probabilities to work on reveals that really feel type of as particular and as welcoming and as simply throughout heat as that is.”
Will ‘Shucked’ go from Salt Lake Metropolis to Broadway?
As “Shucked” performs every evening in Salt Lake Metropolis, Horn watches attentively. However he’s not trying on the stage; he’s eyeing his viewers.
He likes to check the responses — to see what works constantly, the jokes that hit and those that fall flat. A lot of the humor all through is suggestive, and Horn had no concept what to anticipate from Salt Lake Metropolis audiences. However to date, he says, he’s been “pleasantly stunned” by how “keen” the theatergoers have been in going alongside for the experience.
“I believe everyone’s been locked away for thus lengthy due to COVID that folks simply wish to giggle,” he stated. “That’s the sense you get whenever you watch the present. They actually simply wish to have time.”
After Salt Lake Metropolis, the following step is making ready “Shucked” for a Broadway debut. Horn stated he’s “optimistic” and want to deliver the manufacturing in as quickly as doable.
“The evaluations have been actually beautiful, and Salt Lake has been very variety to us,” he stated. “So I believe there’s positively wind in our sail.”
However he’s no stranger to Broadway. He is aware of it may be a fickle enterprise. Massive, splashy musicals crash and burn, and smaller productions you suppose won’t ever see the sunshine of day grow to be a large success.
So within the meantime, Horn is relishing the Salt Lake run and absorbing the moments when individuals from completely different walks of life sit shoulder to shoulder in a darkish theater and giggle on the identical factor. He by no means tires of it.
“There’s this false impression that artwork is simply fantastic if it’s on 10 sq. blocks in New York Metropolis,” Horn stated. “However there are theaters all around the nation and all around the world which might be doing unbelievable work that’s Broadway worthy however by no means goes to Broadway.”
He’s hopeful “Shucked” will attain that vacation spot, although. On the very least, he would love his story to grow to be acquainted to the purpose that he doesn’t need to sofa it between different musicals when describing it.
“Hopefully, possibly someday just a few years from now, individuals shall be saying, ‘My present is one thing like ‘Shucked.’”