A liberal battles staunch and skeptical conservatives who are angered by her attempt to change things.
Sounds heavy, no?
The show in which this happens is SHUCKED.
Word-of-mouth during previews stressed the non-stop lame jokes and ear-torturing puns that continued for two hours and ten minutes.
Truth to tell, Robert Horn’s book does make room for some low-level gags. However, it accomplishes so much more than that.
For one thing, there is that ever-so-subtle message. A problem won’t be solved by those afraid of change (which so many people are).
Enter Maizy, the only one willing to take action in Cob County.
(Yes, Cob with one “b,” lest it be confused with the county with two “b’s” in which Atlanta resides.)
The area’s time-honored tradition is that no resident of Cob County ever leaves for any reason whatsoever. It just isn’t done … until now.
For Maizy simply won’t sit still while a strange disease is killing the corn, which serves as the county’s only moneymaking industry. Whatever’s plaguing the corn’s roots makes her want to get to the root of the problem. Perhaps if she goes to oh-so-cosmopolitan Tampa, she’ll find someone who can help.
Most incensed at Maizy’s leaving us Beau, who’s not merely her beau but her fiancé. Maizy’s argument that “We can’t let fear destroy what we love best” doesn’t move him. He’s offended that she doesn’t think that he’ll come up with a solution.
“How can I be with someone who doesn’t believe in me?” he says in a wounded voice (nicely delivered by Drama Desk-nominee Andrew Durand).
Such a line aimed at a woman usually has her insisting that, no, she does indeed believe in her beloved. Then she wilts and walks back the statement because she doesn’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings.
Not Maizy, who in a Theatre World Award-winning performance by Caroline Innerbichler, isn’t afraid to rebut, “That goes both ways.”
So Horn isn’t just a by-the-numbers writer. Neither are Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, who, in addition to some lively country music, have many a pointed lyric in their songwriting arsenal. As Maizy sings, “I’m looking for a window, not a wall.” Beau’s sings his view of himself: “I’m a damn good man with a rod and a reel.” Sure, but can that save the corn? He also insists in song “If you ask me, I turned out okay.”
(We’ll be the judge of that.)
Maizy has the spunk, but, alas, at least as much naiveté. She’s told, “You can’t see the bad in everyone.” That, however, is the price people pay who live in a small world. Let’s face it: common sense isn’t common and is very hard to learn.
Our heroine’s gullibility is evident not long after he sets foot in Tampa and meets a podiatrist. He’s Gordy, and she immediately believes in him.
Scratching your head yet? Gordy’s shingle solely says that he’s a “corn doctor.” What podiatrist advertises himself that way? That’s a rare unconvincing plot development from Horn, but it’s the only time he asks for us to suspend disbelief.
Gordy’s a heel who can’t heal corn but sure can con. So when he learns that Cob County is apparently home to something far more valuable …
Ah, but the key word is “apparently.” The way Horn informs us that the “valuables” are as worthless as a torn ticket to last year’s high school football game shows sharp observational powers. How the necessary information evades Gordy is perfectly believable, which adds to the fun.
When a stranger comes to any placid small town, its citizens will be wary. (Harold Hill, anyone?) Beau is, although he’s more fearful that Gordy will be the savior and smitten Maizy will become much more smote.
The most super-skeptical of Gordy is Lulu (Tony-nominee Alex Newell), who successfully manufactures corn whiskey. In the show’s most rapturously received number, she tells us that she’s “independently owned and operated,” but admits to being “independently owned and complicated,” too. Lulu certainly complicates Gordy’s life, for she sees through him like the floor of a glass-bottom boat.
Here’s another smart cookie, which underlines one of Horn’s many accomplishments. He shows these people as natively intelligent; only their insularity and aforementioned naiveté has held them back. Instead of making rural Southerners as dumb as placemats, he stresses that their faults are the result of isolationism. Had they been born in a place where there was greater awareness and a wealth of opportunities, they could have gone to the head of the class in the classiest and most demanding colleges. More often, they come back with clever zingers when challenged.
Horn respects his characters, and, better still, he makes us care about them by making them care deeply for each other. The colorfully named Peanut (Tony-nominated Kevin Cahoon) might outmatch matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in his unflagging efforts to keep Beau and Maizy together. We cherish him for never letting up even when the two seem farther apart than two goal posts on a gridiron.
We too know all the while that they’re right for each other and not from the clichéd yardstick that two people truly in love can finish each other’s sentences. At times, Beau and Maizy better that by speaking simultaneously.
The country music melodically succeeds in both up-tempo and ballads. If, however, you wince each time you hear a false rhyme, you’ll flinch when “supper” is matched with “buttered,” “canvas” is linked with “Kansas” and “mouth” is paired with “out.”
And those are merely in the opening number. Dozens upon dozens more will soon be on their way.
Yet Clark and McAnally ameliorate that by offering perceptive lyrics: Lulu sings to Maizy, “Sometimes I call you out; sometimes I call you at two a.m.” It’s an excellent description of a friendship that sometimes annoys you but one on which you can always depend. Similarly speaking is the sentiment “We’ve been family all our lives, but we’ll be friends – friends – forever.”
(And name another song in any musical that includes the word “onomatopoeia” in a lyric.)
But what about those already notorious insipid jokes and pain-inducing puns we’d heard about? Here’s where multi-Tony-winning director Jack O’Brien shines. After each quip is delivered and the audience chides it with a most audible response, O’Brien has his performers strike an attitude that says “No problem. We’re not offended. Laugh at what you will; groan at what you won’t.”
However, there are times when the jokes are more complicated than first meets the ear. Here’s where O’Brien makes sure his actors wait the requisite few seconds and slowly saunter across the stage until we catch up with the joke.
The liberal vs. conservative interpretation mentioned above may not have remotely been on Robert Horn’s mind. But see SHUCKED to see if you see it, too. However, it’s only one of a score of reasons to attend the surprise hit of the season.