DALLAS: For a time in his childhood, writer Robert Horn lived in an orphanage in upstate New York, where the house rules dictated that each resident was allowed to choose one hour of television a week for group viewing.
“Though I’m a gay Jewish kid from Brooklyn,” Horn recalled recently, “I chose ‘Hee Haw.’”
He attributed the affinity to his early childhood, when he was first exposed to the 1970s-’80s-era hillbilly variety show by his grandfather, a retired vaudevillian. Now Horn has come full circle: He’s the bookwriter of Moonshine: That Hee-Haw Musical, which premieres at Dallas Theater Center Sept. 2–Oct. 11. Described as a book musical rather than a sketch show or revue, Moonshine features original songs by Nashville pros Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark and direction by Gary Griffin.
“What I didn’t want to do was a sitdown variety show for Branson,” said Horn. “I wanted to do a book musical with a story that captured the essence of ‘Hee Haw,’ that brand of comedy.”
Happily for Horn, Steve Buchanan—the Gaylord Entertainment mogul who also helped craft the hit TV show “Nashville” and is a producer on Moonshine—was on board with reimagining the beloved property. Director Griffin, though he grew up in Chicago, has family roots in Kentucky, and for his part said he’s eager to dispel any preconceived notions of vintage “Hee Haw” as a haven for hayseed yuks.
“One thing that disturbs me is the way Southern American life is portrayed onstage,” said Griffin, whose previous Broadway credits include The Color Purple. Rejecting a comparison to Li’l Abner, Griffin instead compared Moonshine to another iconic musical about an oft-stereotyped community.
“I’m a huge fan of Jerry Robbins, and one of the reasons he did Fiddler on the Roof was to connect to the roots of the shtetl his family came from,” said Griffin.
Kornfield Kounty as a down-home Anatevka? Pickin’ and grinnin’ isn’t all that far from fiddling and praying, we reckon.