Review: ‘Shucked’: How Broadway’s newest comedy subverts theater tropes

The new musical comedy follows a woman investigating the abrupt disappearance of corn from a rural American town. When an entire audience cheers for a plant growing, you know you’re doing something right.


Kevin Wu

(Kevin Wu for WSN)

Gillian Blum, Deputy Managing Editor

In an era of Broadway defined primarily by adaptations and revivals, any wholly original show is bound to stand out. Add to that originality a hilarious storyline and score, a stellar cast, a marketing strategy that fully embraces the absurd nature of the show’s concept, and you end up with “Shucked.” Broadway’s newest comedy does not disappoint. In fact, every part of it astounds — its humor, casting, and its message about tradition and progress not being mutually exclusive.

“Shucked” follows a farmer who leaves town in search of a doctor who can figure out why her community’s corn plants are dying. A major focus of the show’s advertising is to avoid revealing details about its plot. In lieu of reviews, the Nederlander Theater is adorned with quotes from punnily named fictional critics like “Elon Husk,” and the playbill includes an encouraging statement from the “House Maize and Means Committee.” This is only the tip of the iceberg, as the musical, written by Robert Horn, contains every corn pun imaginable, from ideas popping into people’s heads to its self-described corny ending.

One running gag revolves around side-character Peanut (Kevin Cahoon) sharing various amusing-yet-insightful statements, such as, “I think if you have time to jump in front of a bullet for someone, they have time to move out of the way.” Another is the plethora of non-corn jokes, mostly from the two Storytellers (Ashley D. Kelley and Grey Henson), including one of my personal favorites, “it’s like the lazy dentist says, ‘brace yourself.’”

Henson was a particular standout of the cast, breaking the fourth wall so seamlessly it’s as though it never existed in the first place. His performance was top-tier, as he seamlessly stepped in and out of scenes with his quality deliveries of self-aware, deadpan humor.

One of the best aspects of “Shucked” is its ability to subvert many classic musical theater tropes, particularly with its characterizations of Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler) and Beau (Andrew Durand). Musical theater is a genre in which, so often, the heroic “I Want” songs are sung by male protagonists, while the women sing about the romantic side plot. In “Shucked,” however, Durand was given not one, but two separate songs about his relationship with Maizy, while Innerbichler took on the plot-progressing pieces of music. Both perform remarkably well.

My sole disappointment with the show was the missed opportunity to challenge another classic trope: the need for every character to be preoccupied with love. At first, the exception is Alex Newell’s brilliant performance as Lulu. They brought the house down with their incredible belt and range, stopping the show for a prolonged applause after singing “Independently Owned.” As the title suggests, the song is about how Lulu doesn’t need a man to define her and is perfectly happy on her own, singing, “sleeping alone is underrated.” But in the end, Lulu is also subject to the same romantic trope as so many musical characters before her, and ends up with a man. The romance is well done from a storytelling perspective, but the show misses a good chance to prove that a strong, powerful woman can be perfectly happy without falling in love. That is ultimately the slightest gripe to have with what was otherwise a flawless production.

Horn’s superbly crafted narrative, as well as Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally’s music and lyrics, kept audience members slapping their knees and holding back laughter so as not to miss the next joke. But the humor only worked to further a beautiful, heartfelt story about farmers with traditional rituals and progressive city-types coming together to save dying strains of corn.

“Shucked” is the Muppets meet “Something Rotten” and “The Music Man” — absurd, pun-based, and self-aware. It isn’t based on a movie or true events — it’s simply a show about corn. (But also, a show about progressivism, change, tradition, trust, and subverting tropes, within a wonderfully hilarious story full of heart.)

Contact Gillian Blum at [email protected].