by David, Concierge
Ten people on a hot auto dealership lot in east Texas enter into competition to win a new truck and the opportunity and prestige that comes with it. In the new musical HANDS ON A HARDBODY, contestants must stand and keep one hand on the body of a truck, and whoever who can do so the longest drives home in the prize. The annual competition is held by a local Nissan dealership hoping the boost sagging sales in a tough economy and offers hard-luck residents hope for a piece of the American dream lying just out of reach.
Based on true events and a documentary of the same name, the characters are actual “Hands on a Hardbody” contestants. The show’s creators hired a private detective to locate them for the purpose of interviewing all ten about the experience and their lives afterward. Some are young and seeking the opportunities the truck promises: a waitress with only her bike for transportation, the unemployed young man driving his mother’s Volkswagen Bug, the Texas born son of immigrants working two jobs with plans of becoming a veterinarian, a devout Christian enlisting the support of several prayer chains to win, a recently returned war veteran and a young woman who has a “good job” but yearns to travel. Some constants are older and are struggling through the setbacks and celebrating the gifts life has delivered.
HARDBODY features a book by Doug Wright (Pulitzer Prize winner, I Am My Own Wife), lyrics by Amanda Green (Bring it On: The Musical) and music by Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Amanda Green. The music is not “typical” musical theatre. It is a high-energy mix of country, southern rock and gospel that is very authentic to the show’s location. Fans of Anastasio’s work as guitarist and lead vocalist of the rock band Phish will probably not be surprised by his command of these musical styles here.
In the musical numbers, Neil Pepe’s direction and Sergio Trujillo’s musical staging allow the characters to move beyond the contest rules that force them to stand or walk along side of the vehicle. By no means is this a “dance show.” However, the creative team finds imaginative ways to bring movement to the piece, forward the story and highlight the emotional dynamics playing out in the contest; whether they be combative, cooperative, joyous or heart-breaking. The actors move the truck around the stage and turn it in circles in a cinematic manner. At times, it serves as a platform, a dance partner of sorts, a communal drum session and at one moment symbolizes the emotional tug-of-war in which the characters are engaged.
Anastasio says of Green “her work can make you laugh one minute and break your heart the next,” and she delivers on that promise here. Together with Wright’s book the show is joyous, cut-throat, devastating, hopeful and ultimately life-affirming.
Experienced audiences will truly enjoy this new and original production. People who don’t think they like Broadway musicals would do well to treat themselves to this show. The music and story are easily accessible for sophisticated theatre-goers and the theatrically uninitiated alike.
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