Kevin Cahoon (Photo by Dirty Sugar)

Texas native Kevin Cahoon stuck with this ode to ‘Hee Haw’ from the start; now he’s nominated for a Tony

DON MAINES | Contributing Writer

Kevin Cahoon is hoping that his current sweetheart, “Tony,” will “pop the question” on June 11 when CBS-TV broadcasts the 76th annual Tony Awards from Broadway in New York City.

“You never know! It’s a steep hill to climb because just getting a date with Tony is a dream come true,” said Cahoon, referring to his first nomination for an Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre — commonly known, of course, as the Tony Awards.

Cahoon is nominated for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as Peanut in Shucked; the show is nominated for nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Kevin Cahoon is Peanut in the Broadway musical Shucked. (Photo by Dirty Sugar)

The gay Texan is the only performer who has remained with the show since it began as Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical at the Dallas Theater Center in 2015.

In Dallas, his character was called “Junior Junior,” a role that the trade paper Variety said was “perfectly played with just a smidge of bemused awareness.” Otherwise, the reviewer highly doubted that Moonshine would make it to Broadway, much less become a huge hit.

“Dallas was our first stab at it,” said Cahoon. “We were trying to find its heart and a voice beyond its pastiche as a wink and a nod to Hee Haw,” the so-called “cornpone Laugh-In” that debuted on CBS in 1969 and reigned as a Top 20 TV series.

Following the DTC production, book writer Robert Horn and Nashville composers Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark went back to the drawing board and “really deepened the story,” said Cahoon.

“We did a month-long workshop at the O’Neill Festival in Connecticut and countless readings and workshops in New York,” he said.

“During the pandemic, when live theater was on hold, we met through Zoom. The writers were tenacious. They were going to get this show over the finish line.”

Meanwhile, Horn won the Tony for Best Book of a Musical for Tootsie in 2019, and McAnally and Clark each have won Grammy Awards.
Cahoon has continued acting on stage and in television, including his portrayal of a female impersonator in GLOW on Netflix, in which he performed a duet with Geena Davis, Frederick Loewe’s “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” from the movie Gigi.

Next, he paired with the other star of Thelma and Louise, Susan Sarandon, in the Nashville-set soap opera Monarch on FOX. Cahoon played the gay hairdresser and longtime confidante of Sarandon’s character.

Last September, Cahoon confided to Dallas Voice that he would soon be off to Salt Lake City to preview a new musical comedy.

“It could be on Broadway in the spring of 2023,” he said. “The show is called Shucked [and] it’s directed by Jack O’Brien.”

Shucked, with Kevin Cahoon as Peanut, is nominated for the Tony for Best Musical. (Photo courtesy Emilio Madrid)

And danged if it didn’t happen just like he said, although he didn’t predict a Tony nomination for himself. “I am gobsmacked,” he said, again and again.

Joining the cast in Utah was non-binary actor Alex Newell, famous from TV’s Glee and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and adored for her stage role in Once Upon an Island. As Lulu in Shucked, they are nominated for a Tony in the featured-actor category alongside Cahoon and Kevin Del Aguila (Some Like It Hot), Justin Cooley (Kimberly Akimbo) and Jordan Donica (Camelot).

“Just to be one of the five [nominees] is beyond any dream I had,” said Cahoon.

The 51-year-old actor, who made his Broadway debut in The Who’s Tommy, grew up in Dobbin, a small town an hour’s drive northwest of Houston.

“The minute I read the sides [to the script that would become Shucked] eight years ago, I thought, ‘I know this guy,’” said Cahoon. “I knew him from the guys who hang out on the porch at the store in Dobbin where you pay for your groceries at the end of the month. They put peanuts in their Coca-Colas and tell stories. They are raconteurs. I was inspired by them to create Peanut.”

At age 6, Cahoon was billed as “The World’s Youngest Rodeo Clown” in performances at the Astrodome. At age 13, he won the Teen Male Vocalist Grand Championship on TV’s Star Search.

“In the semifinals, I sang ‘Some People’ from Gypsy,” he said. “Everyone told me I should sing a pop song, but I brought my show tunes. In the finals, I sang ‘The Rum Tug Tugger’ from Cats, and I won.”

Now on June 11, he has the chance to win again.

The 76th annual Tony Awards will be broadcast live beginning at 7 p.m. Central on Sunday, June 11, from the United Palace in New York’s Washington Heights. Hosting for the second year in a row is out Oscar winner Adriana DeBose.