Isabella McCalla
Isabella McCalla

Isabelle McCalla on Stepping Into Maizy’s Shoes in Shucked

There’s a new girl in town in Cob County! The hit musical comedy Shucked recently welcomed actress Isabelle McCalla, who took over the role of Maizy, the show’s leading lady with a heart of gold. Shucked, which will play its final performance at the Nederlander Theatre on January 14, 2024, features a hilarious book by Tony winner Robert Horn and a score by country songwriters Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. The musical centers around a tight-knit community that thrives on corn! NY1 entertainment journalist Frank DiLella recently caught up with McCalla to chat about her latest Broadway venture and why she’s living a dream in taking on this project.

You are taking on one of Broadway’s funniest musical comedies in years.

My dream has always been to be in an ensemble comedy piece, whether that’s theater or television. There is nothing better than watching a group of skilled comics volley back and forth and have the audience in stiches. I had heard of the show — I hadn’t seen it until I got the audition — but everybody who saw Shucked said it’s the funniest show they’ve seen in years. And when I first saw the show, I was literally cry-laughing, and I looked at the role of Maizy on that stage and thought that’s absolutely a role I can do.

You made your way to Cob County a little earlier than expected, right?

There was a case where both of the understudies were out and Caroline Innerbichler, who originated the role of Maizy, was back in Minnesota. So I woke up at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning with a call from my stage manger saying, “Are you ready to go on today?” And I said, “Sure!” And I went into work mode. I was super-focused and pushed away all the anxiety and fear — I knew I was prepared!

And there’s some detailed choreography in this show involving corn. Were you nervous about perfecting the opening corn line?

The corn line! It’s iconic now! I was shaking doing it on my first night, but I nailed it. And the company! There is no warmer company than the Shucked company at the Nederlander Theatre. They are so supportive and here for any questions I have.

Robert Horn wrote the book to Shucked, and he certainly knows how to write a joke. Favorite Robert Horn line in the show?

I think my favorite line that I get to say is: “Around here we care more about what’s inside an asshole.” [Laughs.] Because the thing I love about Maizy — she doesn’t know or think she’s funny at all. She is so genuine and wears her heart on her sleeve.

Isabelle McCalla and Alex Newell in Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.
Isabelle McCalla and Alex Newell in Shucked. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman.

What’s it like to have a front-row seat to the goddess that is Tony winner Alex Newell every single night?

It’s a dream come true. It feels like having VIP access at a Beyoncé concert. I am in club Renaissance — but it’s Club Cob County!

You’re also working with the great Jack O’Brien. Best piece of advice the director has shared with you about doing musical comedy?

“You should think of laughter as if it were wind.” Meaning that when you do comedy, especially in live theater, we as the characters don’t think we’re funny. We should be the last people in the room to think we’re funny. So when laughter happens, you just have to not process it or your performance will become all about getting the laugh.

You’re no stranger to working on original new musicals — you did The Prom on Broadway. Can you talk about the importance of preserving the art of musical theater by helping bring new stories and voices to the stage?

We’re in an age where there’s so much mass production of material that is already in existence, with jukebox musicals, and I think that’s wonderful and good, but there is something so special about nurturing and producing work that’s completely original. And there is a risk to it because you don’t know if it’s going to be a success. But that is where the magic happens and it’s where creatives become the most innovative, because they don’t have a blueprint to follow.

Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen in The Prom. Photo by Deen van Meer.
Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen in The Prom. Photo by Deen van Meer.

Let’s pivot to The Prom for a moment: When you were doing the show on Broadway, you were part of a history-making moment when you and your company performed in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. You and your costar Caitlin Kinnunen had the first same-sex kiss in the nationally televised broadcast, at the end of your musical number.

It was probably one of the proudest moments in my life. It was the coldest Thanksgiving Day on record in years. We were freezing. And I remember dancing “It’s Time to Dance” with Caitlin Kinnunen and seeing my breath in front of me, and then getting ready to go in for the kiss with her. The thing about that show and that moment is that it’s not overly sexualized — it’s about two hearts coming together and being proud to celebrate their love publicly. And the reactions we got that day — the responses were immediate. Yes, there were some not-so-great sentiments. But there were hundreds of tweets saying “You represent my family.” Or “Thank you for seeing me.”

Shucked has such heart. Yes, it’s a big ol’ “corny” musical comedy, but there’s a lot of heart in there.

The show is about doing everything you can for the people you love. And it’s a show about survival. Maizy is relentless in her determination to save her town, and she sees everyone as being good. What’s beautiful about this show is that you see every character peel open and transform and be open to love. And at the end of the day, it’s family that matters.

Learn More About Shucked