‘Shucked’ Grows On Broadway: How A Hee Haw Musical Stormed The Tony Nominations, Landed ‘The Voice’ And Became A Citified Hit – Deadline Q&A With Producer Mike Bosner

Last night, the Broadway musical Shucked made history of a sort when cast member Alex Newell delivered a red-hot performance of the musical’s barnburner “Independently Owned” on The Voice, marking the first time a Broadway show has gained entry onto the NBC talent competition.

The performance before a national audience was just the latest tradition-bucking move for Shucked, the seemingly out-of-nowhere musical that capped a months-long campaign for recognition – any recognition – with its garnering of no fewer than nine Tony Award nominations on May 2, nominations that included Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Direction and, for both Newell and actor Kevin Cahoon, Best Featured Actor/Musical.

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The nominations marked a big turning point for the production, both in terms of box office and public perception. New Yorkers and tourists began noticing the ubiquitous, pun-filled, bright yellow and green Shucked posters throughout the subway system and elsewhere months ago, though the ads gave little away in terms of plot. Still, the posters drew attention with faux-critic quotes like “The Musical That Has Broadway All A-Twitter!” – Elon Husk. “Finger-Lickin’ Funny” – Kernel Sanders. “I saw it 300 times before it even opened!” – George Santos.

What the posters hinted at was a downhome, cornpone comedy that began life as – literally – a musical adaptation of the old TV show Hee Haw, a proudly hillbilly Laugh-in. After years of development, Shucked, with a book by Broadway veteran Robert Horn, music by best-selling country duo Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, became what it is today, an irreverent comedy that both delights in its Dog Patch characters and knows full well how to convey that delight to sophisticated New York theater-goers whose remnant recollections of Minnie Pearl are likely fading by the minute.

So, the premise: Cob County USA has recently been devastated by a blight on its sole crop, corn, forcing young lovers Maizy (Caroline Innerbichler) and Beau (Andrew Durand) to postpone their wedding. Despite the admonitions of moonshining cousin Lulu (Alex Newell), the naive Maizy heads for Tampa in search of advice from some Big City horticulturalists, but instead falls under the sway of con-man podiatrist (she sees his “Dr. Corn” sign) Gordy Jackson (John Behlmann), who for reasons too convoluted to repeat here, sees a get-rich-quick scheme just waiting for him back at Cob County.

The Tony nominations have already proven a cash crop to Shucked. In the weeks after the nominations were announced, Shucked began, for the first time since previews began at the Nederlander Theatre March 8, posting grosses that exceeded its weekly break-even point. A take of $712,514 for the second week of May was its best-ever, and the following week even that figure was surpassed by nearly $70,000 with a $779,986 weekly box office tally.

The rise in box office is a bet that’s paid off for producer Mike Bosner, who made the decision early on to offer old-fashioned preview prices to attract cautious ticket-buyers, gambling that the musical would charm its way into a wave of good word-of-mouth and maybe even a place at the Tonys. Fill the seats, he thought, and the higher ticket prices could come later.

With nine Tony nominations (tying with & Juliet and New York, New York, and second only to Some Like It Hot), Shucked seemed decisively to have turned a corner, and then the clouds came. With the WGA strike in full swing, the Tony Awards, scheduled for June 11, were in serious doubt of cancelation, or at least postponement. Either route could have had disastrous impacts on Broadway’s new productions, particularly something like Shucked that was just finding its feet.

As of now, the CBS Tony broadcast is expected to go on, in some fashion or another, although nobody on Broadway seems over-confident of anything these days.

Deadline spoke to producer Bosner (whose credits include the Tony-winning Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) about Shucked, Hee Haw humor, box office strategy, the impact of the Tony nominations and some what-might-have-beens.

This interview was edited and condensed.

DEADLINE: I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while about Shucked and the Shucked phenomenon. With everything that’s been going on with the Tonys lately, this seems like the time. You got eight nominations.

MIKE BOSNER: Nine nominations. Nine, nine.

DEADLINE: Nine nominations. What was your initial reaction?

BOSNER: I was blown away. I was hoping for a few but I’ve been both surprised before with Tonys, both in the positive and negative directions, so you kind of go in expecting nothing. I never get involved with a show thinking ‘this is going to win a Tony award.’ I produce them because I love the show and I think there’s a market for it and that other people will, too.

And so when you hear your name called, it’s just thrilling. It’s over the moon excitement, a validation from your peers and from the people at large. That’s thrilling.

DEADLINE: What’s the impact of the nomination? Is there any tangible impact of the nominations themselves?

BOSNER: I don’t know that there is a scientific way of quantifying this in the industry at large, but I will say that we saw a huge impact. Our advance went up almost a million dollars since the nominations because had this big bump and then we’ve just stayed there in our daily wrap, with minimal decline since then. It bumped us up to this new level and I’m thrilled that it’s staying. It’s kind of amazing because we’ve been hearing all this great word-of-mouth about the show and this new part of the campaign building word-of-mouth.

When we started, there definitely seemed to be a resistance to it, as to people buying into the show and what it was, and it felt like when these nominations came out and we’re starting to get the news out in some of our advertising, it was like, “Is this the thing that needed to click in people’s mind to trust the word-of-mouth?’ It certainly feels like the answer to that is yes.

DEADLINE: And what do you think the resistance was, or is?

BOSNER: Shucked was just such an unknown thing. It is such an unknown thing, and we were very specifically tight-lipped about the show and what we were doing and what it was about because it’s such a tricky thing with this show…have you seen the show, by the way?


BOSNER: Then you know. This is a show that it so encapsulates who I am and what I love in the theater – it’s hilarious, the music is amazing, and you just go to escape and have a great time, and it brings me back to my Midwest roots. But there is a trickiness when you’re trying to set it up in a big metropolitan or urban setting, and you don’t want to give people a reason not to come and see this show, and we were finding that any way we really described the show it kind of felt like oh, that tells this person the show isn’t for that.

So instead of telling people, we thought, let’s go the opposite direction. Let’s just be very loud, be in their face, get them saying, ‘what is this thing,’ and try to convey a tone that says ‘this is going to be a good time out, I don’t know what it is but it feels good.’

And then also when we start to layer in our preview pricing strategies, it all kind of works because it was also like, “oh, you’re only charging 69 bucks and it looks funny? I’ll take a shot on that.”

DEADLINE: With the preview pricing, the show started getting attendance up really quickly, but the low pricing kept the grosses. How does that balance out? How do you weigh those two things? Lots of seats filled, but not much by was of box office figures.

BOSNER: I think the answer is complicated. I mean, this was the gamble that we took. I felt very strongly that we have nothing to sell but the show itself and that it delivers and has great word-of-mouth, so we doubled down on that. Yes, it inhibited our gross potential in the first couple of weeks, but the truth is, but we weren’t going to reach that gross potential anyway.

So, I’d rather have the audience experience be insanely good and take the lower gross than reach the same gross numbers than it maybe could have been but with 40 percent [of seats filled] because having 12 hundred people scream their faces off with laughter and going crazy with applause is a very different experience than if the theatre is half empty. It’s a comedy at the end of the day and that is contagious.

DEADLINE: I’ll tell you, when I saw it, and when Alex Newell delivered their big performance [“Independently Owned”], there were the people standing up, and this is early in the show, and also before reviews came out. Right away you just sort of know okay, there’s something here. Something is catching on because none of these people in this audience knew what that song was going to be.

BOSNER: A hundred percent. A hundred percent. That was exactly what we were trying to do. We didn’t know we would get that kind of a response and we didn’t know that we would completely appeal to a younger theater-going crowd and the TikTok generation who propped us up and is continuing to prop us up because this thing has taken on a viral life in the most amazing way possible. And we packed the houses. The people loved the show, they went out and talked about it on their own, and they did it because we made it accessible for them to do so.

DEADLINE: When I was first in New York in the early ‘90s you could go to all these little sort of irreverent Off Broadway comedies in the West Village and the East Village, things like Ruthless and the Brady Bunch Live and that funny Valley of the Dolls parody, and people responded to them. They didn’t have to make a huge amount of money to go on, and they never transferred to Broadway, but there was a built-in theater scene that supported them. Those kind of things don’t seem to exist anymore, I don’t think, at least not to any great extent. There just isn’t the financial structure to support them. Shucked seems to be sort of tapping into that void, or am I wrong?

BOSNER: You’re exactly correct. We actually thought about opening this thing Off Broadway and doing a commercial Off Broadway run but now the economics of that didn’t really work. And you’re exactly right – that was the audience we were trying to appeal to.

DEADLINE: And so, you just had your best week ever. I’m looking at some figures now, $712,755. Tell me, is that enough for Shucked to keep going, or does it have to be even more?

BOSNER: It is definitely enough for us to keep going. I can happily tell you it’s the first week that we’ve made some money and we’re crossing over into profitable weeks now, and every week from here on out looks like it’s coming on to our little 10-week-out chart of sales starting from a better place than the week before. So, it feels really good, and that we’re only going up from here.

DEADLINE: What is the weekly break-even if I can ask?

BOSNER: That I’d rather not say. But I will say that we’ve crossed over into making money now.

DEADLINE: Then let’s talk about the other thing that’s happened this week: the writers’ strike and the Tony ceremony. What was your first reaction when you heard that there might not be a ceremony at all?

BOSNER: I was devastated. I was devastated for our show as well as the rest of the other musicals this season and plays of this season, but really for the industry at large. I maintain that the Tony awards are the biggest commercial that we have for Broadway and it’s not just the business on Broadway, it’s touring Broadway shows and the theater industry around the country.

So, the thought of the Tonys not happening was upsetting and I’m so thankful and grateful that the WGA came forward with a way for the Tonys to proceed. There’s still a lot unknown about how the ceremony is actually going to look and we’re trying to figure that out and get answers on that, but we’re getting there and I cannot underscore enough how amazingly grateful I am on behalf of all of the new shows.

DEADLINE: Not to be dramatic about it, but if the Tonys for whatever reason hadn’t happened or won’t happen, was would it mean for a show like Shucked? It’s one thing if you’re Sweeney Todd or Parade, but for a show like Shucked the loss I assume would be devastating.

BOSNER: It has the potential to be devastating. We are thankfully getting to a place where we’re growing every week and we’re starting to make money and every week from here on out looks better than the week before so, I’m not going to say the Tonys doesn’t matter because of course it matters, but as soon as the whispers of [the strike] this started up a couple weeks ago we had a really big sit-down and said, ‘we need to make this show Tony proof so that we can survive no matter what happens.’

DEADLINE: I’ve heard of making shows critic-proof. But how do you make a show Tony proof?

BOSNER: If I had the answer to that, oh, I would be sitting in a much different place than I am now. I don’t know the answer but I think it’s just doubling down on selling tickets and reaching our audience and getting the word about the show out to as many people as possible, and getting the word of the good reviews out, and building on the good word-of-mouth and affection that we have seen for the show which is very real.

DEADLINE: Alex Newell on The Voice. Was that in the works before the Tony strike stuff came up.

BOSNER: This is a perfect example of what we were just talking about. As soon as the whispers of this strike started happening, I was talking to my business partner on this, my producing partner, Jay Marciano, and we had this sit down. We were at breakfast and I said, we got to start thinking about what we can do, because we were booked on Colbert and a bunch of other TV programs that have unfortunately not been able to proceed because of the strike, so we got to thinking about where we could be in other big national exposures, and Jay was the one who brought up the idea of The Voice, and I credit him so much and thank him so much that he fully got this done. It was his idea and he pushed it through, and we’re the first Broadway show to ever have someone appear on The Voice, and it’s going to be a huge thing for us.

I’m just over the moon to share Alex’s singular performance and a little bit of our show with the world and to an audience that may not be paying attention to us right now.


DEADLINE: What appealed to you about this show in the first place?

BOSNER: All roads lead back to my wife. She’s the music booker at the Today show, and composers Shane McAnally, got to know her through his manager at the time because they were launching a new label, and he got to talking to her about this show he was working on, and she came home from work one day and said, ‘hey, I need you to talk to this guy. He has a lot of questions, they’ve been working on this thing and they want to talk about how to move it forward.’

So, I got to know Shane first, and this show started as a commission from the Opry to do a musical based on Hee Haw, and so these writers, Shane McAnally, Brandy Clark, and Robert Horn started out creating a musical version of Hee Haw which I thought was just a great idea because it kind of knew exactly what it wanted to be, and more so than anything else me coming from the Midwest, the idea of a big country score on Broadway felt like a huge opportunity and just very much up my alley.

The joke is we moved very far away from Hee Haw very quickly because the show just evolved into something completely separate in this wonderful way, and Shane and Brandy are two of the top country songwriters in the music industry, if not the top, and Brandy’s even a performing artist in her own right, and now the score that they’ve created is so far beyond a country score. It does have country influences but it’s now just a great Broadway score.

DEADLINE: I had heard that it started as a Hee Haw musical, and I think in more ways than one it was wise not to continue down that road. Nothing anything against Hee Haw, which I think like Green Acres, was smarter and more subversive than most people remember, but I think the title would have scared people off, don’t you?

BOSNER: Totally. I found just anecdotally that as many people that were obsessed with the idea of Hee Haw the musical were turned off by the idea of Hee Haw the musical. But at the end of the day the real reason we moved away from it was not intentionally, it was more so because the show just evolved into something else, and a lot of that was working with Jack O’Brien who I brought on to direct the show, and he gave it the space to kind of become what it wanted to be, and now it’s this beautiful little jewel down at the Nederlander Theatre.

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