Stage Musical Update Of ‘Hee Haw’ Slated For Texas This Fall

Get ready for a familiar mix of gentle, cornball jokes and country music when a stage version of “Hee Haw” lands in Texas this fall.

“Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical” will make its world premiere at Dallas Theater Center in September and its Grammy Award-nominated co-composer said it will be centered on a love story and feature all new characters.

“I would say they’re 21st century ‘Hee Haw’ characters,” Brandy Clark told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We wouldn’t want to try to just copy those characters. Those characters were too great to just be copied. They’re kind of like the grandchildren of those characters.”

Photo: John Davisson
Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn.

Clark, a Grammy Award-nominee this year for best new artist, is writing the score with Shane McAnally, a two-time Grammy winner who has written songs for Lady Antebellum, Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert. Clark called the songs “a little bit of everything” but they tried to keep the score timeless and classic.

“What we’ve really shot for, Shane and I, was for someone to walk into this musical – maybe someone who thinks they don’t like country music – and, when they leave, say, ‘Wow, if that’s was country music, I love it.’“

The story – set in present day – is by Robert Horn, who has written episodes of “Living Single” and “Designing Women,” and direction by Gary Griffin, who also directed the Broadway show “Honeymoon in Vegas.”

Clark said she loved the process since she enjoys writing songs that tell a story, but had to adjust to the notion of telling a story with multiple tunes, not all at once. “We’re used to a format where in 3½ minutes we tell the whole story.”

“Hee Haw” started as a summer replacement for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in 1969 and ran on CBS until 1971 as a country version of the comedy series “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” When CBS dropped it, it went into syndication and ran through 1992. It starred Roy Clark along and Buck Owen, and often had on the top stars of country music.

Many segments of “Hee Haw” portrayed people in overalls and straw hats. Regulars included George Lindsey, Junior Samples, Minnie Pearl, Archie Campbell, Roy Acuff, Misty Rowe, Lisa Todd, Gunilla Hutton, Barbi Benton and the Hager twins.

Critics mostly disliked the simple humor and twangy country music, and sometimes it was criticized for perpetuating stereotypes. But it had an impact on the culture: The phrase “pickin’ and grinnin’“ became popular after a segment with Clark and Owens playing guitar while smiling and telling jokes. Blake Shelton lampooned “Hee Haw” as host of “Saturday Night Live” this year.

Clark said the new musical is “definitely in on the joke” – there’s even a song called “Corny” – and will make fun of the “Hee Haw” stereotype. “What we’re really working on is to make sure it has as much heart as it does humor,” she said. “My dream for it would be the modern-day ‘Oklahoma!’“

Clark has co-written Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow,” The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” and Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans.” She released her debut album, 12 Stories, in October 2013. She’ll perform “Hold My Hand” at the Grammy Awards on Sunday.