Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical Spoiled by the Same Sexism That Plagues Country
We can't believe they said it, either: The lyrics drag down an otherwise stellar take on country music in Hee Haw.
Very rarely do the paths of the Great White Way and Nashville cross, but they certainly have in Dallas. Following its world premiere at the Dallas Theater Center, Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical is poised to make its way to Broadway. Propelled by an all-star cast, including American Idol alum Justin Guarini and Rose Hemingway of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying fame, the country-fried musical inspired by Hee Haw is sure to see some broader success on the stage — but maybe not for the right reasons.
Briefly, Moonshine follows Misty Mae, a girl from small-town Kornfield Kounty who wants to leave home for the big city — which is, of course, Tampa, because Southern people are stupid and think that Tampa and New York City are functionally the same thing. When Misty Mae leaves behind Kornfield Kounty, she breaks the heart of alcoholic Bucky Jr., her one true love. When she arrives in Tampa, she quickly falls into the arms of the shady Gordy Jackson, played by Guarini, who wants to marry her and pay off his gambling debts by selling rare minerals that lie under Misty Mae’s grandpa’s house. However you feel about all that, the appeal of Moonshine really lies in its music.
The show's sure to be successful, and that can be attributed to the lively and engaging songbook, largely penned by two of Nashville’s most impressive songwriters, Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. Together, McAnally and Clark have written country hits made famous by Kacey Musgraves, Sam Hunt and Reba McEntire, among plenty of others. The duo has the best country music songwriting chops that Broadway could have hoped for, but the content of the lyrics leaves much to be desired.
There are some key exceptions, though. The opening number, “Hee Haw,” is a snarky (if not subtle) send-up of Southern stereotypes and rural living. The writing is smart and well-placed, serving up delicious morsels like, “We were raised on God, guns and gravy,” and impressive arrangements. The juxtaposition of musical theatre and country music perhaps doesn’t seem natural on face, but in this number it blends seamlessly. The composition here is enough to impress even the snobbiest of musical theatre fans.
Perhaps the best example of this strange portmanteau between country music and musical theatre is “Shucked,” a giant double entendre that closes out the first act. In case you were wondering, “shuck” serves as a stand-in for “fuck” about one million times during this song, which is probably totally shocking to hear. Still, it is a brilliant combination of country music at its most theatrical, and does an excellent job of showcasing the tongue-in-cheek wordplay that has always been a fixture of country music.
However, Moonshine’s lyrics are often patently offensive, particularly to women. LuLu, Misty Mae’s well-endowed best friend, is generally referred to only by her breasts, or as they are frequently called, “jugs.” Act one’s “Miss Kornfield Kounty” sounds excellent, until you start listening to the lyrics. There’s a quick racist jab lobbed at Asians, which inspires plenty of laughs from the crowd. Later, you’re almost slapped in the face by a group of bearded men saying, “If you ain’t in her, it ain’t intercourse.” In “May the Best Man Win,” the ensemble actually utters the words, “We’ve got two hot dogs and only one bun,” and, “Two horses, but only one ass,” in reference to the competition between Bucky Jr. and Gordy for Misty Mae’s affection. (Or ass.)
“Our Crooked Family Tree” has the real potential for some laughs — everyone’s family is crazier than hell, right? — but is largely just a bunch of Southern stereotypes (frog giggin’, sweet tea and deer huntin’) rattled off over an excellent arrangement. You know what “Haystack” is about before it even starts, and it’s about as charming as a song that involves pulling dried grass out of your pussy after a good ol' roll in the hay can be. A theme quickly emerges: These are songs written not for a country music audience, but for a mainstream audience that hates country music and is happy to laugh at its worst.
Speaking of mainstream, some of the show’s lyrics are cribbed from actual memes. “We Love Jesus, but We Drink a Little” is ripped directly from a bit on The Ellen Show, and you’ll see plenty of the one-liners — “If the world were fair, mosquitos would suck fat instead of blood” — copy-and-pasted from your funny Pinterest board or Facebook feed. Others are the same old, same old sexist complaints about women — we talk too much, get on their nerves, ha ha, etc.
If you don’t listen to the words, the music of Moonshine is unbelievably impressive. The entire cast, particularly Guarini and Hemingway, are talented singers — the kind that give you actual goosebumps. At moments, the raunchy innuendo is hilarious. But ultimately, it feels disgusting to clap and smile while Moonshine revels in and reinforces outdated, sexist stereotypes that still persist in real country music, the kind that doesn’t come with choreographed musical numbers.