Really, y'all? It might be 2015, but inside the Wyly Theatre, we've definitely taken a step back in time — and it's not a good one.
Despite having a score co-composed by a woman (country artist Brandy Clark, along with Shane McAnally), the tone of Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical is so degrading and vulgar toward women, it's a challenge to get through the show without exploding in feminist rage. Yes, the title tips off the audience that there will be big-chested beauties and lame jokes galore. That is the essence of the original Hee Haw.
But instead of using that gimmick as a launch pad for a sly, modern take on hillbilly stereotypes and cornpone fun, the creators and Dallas Theater Center have slunk down to a lazy level of stupid punch lines and flimsy characters with not enough smarts to share between them.
And that's a shame, because there are elements of Moonshine that are genuinely appealing. Clark and McAnally's score, for one, is a tuneful mix of pop country and Broadway that grows from pale shadows of each genre to a confident, toe-tapping, soul-searching musical score. Denis Jones' choreography is a pleasing combo of athleticism and down-home hoedown. Never does it seem out of place in the setting of Kornfield Kounty, where residents poke up their smiling faces from behind a wall of cartoonish corn stalks and the men flip and cartwheel the girls around like batons.
I'm purposefully using "girls" instead of "women" here because book writer Robert Horn and director Gary Griffin don't treat their female characters as competent, self-sufficient human beings. The show is built around Misty Mae (Rose Hemingway), a backwoods Barbie who is dumber than a box of rocks and celebrated for her sweet nature and "special" ability to bring out the sunshine.
Misty Mae is itching to get out of her one-horse town and explore the Big City (wait for it: Tampa!), where she serendipitously gets a job as a vapid weather girl. She's broken it off with her childhood love, Bucky Jr. (a sincerely charming Ken Clark), and taken up with the two-faced Gordy (American Idol's Justin Guarini), whose demeanor is as slick as his suits.
He's got nefarious plans for the naive young bunny, who he thinks is set to inherit land that's brimming with a valuable mineral. So back the couple goes to Kornfield Kounty, where Misty Mae's wacky neighbors and family (many jokes establish that they're one and the same) put Gordy to the test.
However, this stretched-out sketch balloons to two-and-a-half hours, with the first act bogging itself down with too many cheap gags and not enough momentum. For every moderately funny joke (and there are even a couple worthy of guffaws), there are at least 20 more you must sit through. It's another nod to the original television show, but one that turns the first act into an interminable mishmash of stop-and-start plot and crude humor.
The second act picks up speed, but whatever scraps of empathy we have for the characters disintegrate with the forehead-smacking conclusion. It wouldn't be spoiling anything to say that Misty Mae runs back to the arms of Bucky Jr., leaving her freedom and job in Tampa for ... what, exactly, back home? Homemaker among the haystacks?
Her best friend and cousin, Lulu (Ryah Nixon), has spent the show pining for a man who's worthy of her ample charms. (Get ready for a lot of boob jokes.) Not only does she end up with Gordy — who even admits to the town "I'm an asshole" — but she also bails out his gambling debts. Lulu and Misty Mae shouldn't settle, and neither should we.
Dallas Theater Center's production of Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical runs through October 11 at Wyly Theatre.