Corn gets stuck in your teeth. In this case, Shucked, a musical about corn, has been stuck in mine for 10 years. Never in my life would I have believed this gay, Jewish, optimistically cynical hardcore New Yorker would collaborate with two Nashville country music artists to write a musical comedy about corn! One where people come dressed up as corn, to see it. Yet here I am, shopping for a yellow suit for its opening night on Broadway!
Like corn itself, Shucked took time to grow. And now, a week before its opening night on Broadway, I’ve written the last kernel of a joke on a script that has been open on my desktop longer than most New York restaurants stay open. Shucked has become this unlikely show with the nickname, “The Corn Musical.” And remarkably, audiences are embracing it with open hearts and abundant laughter.
I initially set out to create a fictional town whose inhabitants had closed themselves off from the outside world to protect their singular way of life. They were fearful of anyone who was different, which is why I decided to then bring in someone different. I wanted to write a story where you gently realize that unless you open your hearts to people who are different than you, you never grow.
Then, the world started to change in unfamiliar ways—divide and vitriol started to permeate our peripheral. Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and I knew we wanted to write about what we were feeling. We knew we needed to merge optimism with caution, to create a fictional world where polar ideologies could come together. We knew our show’s selling points would be its comedy, heart, music. And corn.
Corn became the metaphor for both growth and sustenance. Admittedly, though, it can also have a negative impact environmentally. Both the positive and negative of that was emblematic of the story I wanted to tell. It was also the perfect crop to close off this heartland farming community from a progressive world.
In the past decade, while Brandy and Shane worked on their masterful score, I labored over the book. Especially the jokes. I’ve been asked, “How do you make something funny when you’re writing it alone with no audience or sounding board?” In all honesty, it’s like trying to throw a bird off a cliff: some fly away and some land—sometimes with a thud. And I literally experience all five stages of grief when a joke doesn’t work.
At first, you get into your head. You say to yourself, “the only way I’ll ever be good at this is if they change what ‘good’ is.” You try not to be cynical—even though you can be cynical and accurate. You sit and watch as sanity and rationale slowly unfriend you….
Then, you remember to trust your instincts, know your characters and the stakes of the scene. You commit to a tone and let your neurosis and experience do its job. And then you edit. And then you nervously let other people, more talented than you, speak it all out loud. Then, an audience tells you if you were right. But you must always trust your gut and see the obvious. It’s kind of like knowing a psychic isn’t legit because they let you write a check.
It also helps to team up with two of the finest and funniest storytellers you know, with two of the biggest hearts you’ve ever met, whose music makes you laugh, cry, and feel the feels. And then the three of you spend 10 years together creating a world. You workshop it, you rewrite it, you rewrite the rewrite, you discuss, decide, debate, deliberate. You create.
Then you say, “Hi Producers of Broadway…here’s an original musical about corn with no source material and no big movie stars. You want to raise millions of dollars in an unstable, post-pandemic, tourist-light marketplace to put it on? We did mention it’s about corn, right?” And only someone fearless, passionate, deeply intuitive, and slightly off-kilter would say, “Yes. I see your dream. It’s my dream, too.” That madman was Mike Bosner. We gave birth to this show, but he brought it to life in the most contemporary and original way.
Then you get to Broadway. You see the show in front of an audience, multiple times. You revise the rewrite of the rewrite. Then, one day, you finish. You hope.
For me, I’m never done. You close the file, but never the thoughts. There’s always one more joke, one more line, or one more scene that can be made just a little bit better. With Shucked, our masterful director, Jack O'Brien, gently, lovingly, sternly came to me and said, “Pen down, my love. Your work is done.” You know that moment is coming like a colonoscopy. You dread it, it’s filled with discomfort, and there’s a good chance there will be drugs.
But now, 10 years later, saying goodbye to this show is like sending a kid off to college. You will miss it. You hope you raised it right. You hope it finds its heart and brings good into the world. You know you’ll see it again soon—perhaps as a success, perhaps not—but you look at it in wonder and say: I created that. I am proud of that. And I love that.
This show that we spent 10 years writing, that lived in our souls, that refused to leave, is now no longer ours. It belongs to audiences. Saying good-bye to my brilliant collaborators, who have become my family, is the hardest part.
But I also constantly remember that for every action, I tend to have an equal and opposite overreaction. So I’ll take comfort in knowing there’s a theatre out there where people from diverse walks of life are coming together to laugh heartily and feel the feels because Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and myself fell in love with an idea, and each other. And as Peanut, one of our characters would say, “At the end of the day…. It’s 11:59.”
Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and NY Drama Critics Circle Awards winner Robert Horn is a New York native. Horn has written the books for 13: The Musical, Tootsie, Shucked, Dame Edna, Moonshine, Lone Star Love, and Hercules.