Hands on a Hardbody (musical)
Hands on a Hardbody is a musical based on S.R. Bindler's documentary film Hands on a Hardbody. The book is by Doug Wright, music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, lyrics by Amanda Green. The documentary was adapted into a musical commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, California.
|Hands on a Hardbody|
|Basis||Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary |
by S.R. Bindler
|Productions||2012 La Jolla Playhouse |
2014 St. Louis
2014 Albany, NY
2019 Hudson, Ohio
Hands on a Hardbody had a private reading in April 2011 in New York City. The musical had its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse, California, running from April 2012 through June 2012. Broadway previews began February 23, 2013 at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, with the official opening on March 21, 2013. Directed by Neil Pepe, the cast featured Allison Case, Keith Carradine, Jon Rua, Hunter Foster, Keala Settle and Mary Gordon Murray. Musical staging is by Sergio Trujillo, scenic design by Christine Jones, costumes by Susan Hilferty and lighting by Kevin Adams. The entire original La Jolla cast performed on Broadway. Sergio Trujillo replaced Benjamin Millepied, who had choreographed the reading and La Jolla production. The musical closed on April 13, 2013, playing 28 previews and 28 performances.
The first regional production was mounted by New Line Theatre in St. Louis, MO in May and June 2014. Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy, the cast featured Todd Schaefer (JD Drew), Jeffrey M. Wright (Benny Perkins), Rey Arceno (Jesus Peña), Mike Dowdy (Mike Ferris), Cindy Duggan (Janis Curtis), Zachary Allen Farmer (Frank Nugent), Ryan Foizey (Greg Wilhote), Alison Helmer (Virginia Drew), Marshall Jennings (Ronald McCowan), Taylor Pietz (Heather Stovall), Anna Skidis Vargas (Norma Valverde), Margeau Baue Steinau (Cindy Barnes), Luke Steingruby (Chris Alvaro), Keith Thompson (Don Curtis), and Marcy Wiegert (Kelli Mangrum), with scenic design by Rob Lippert, lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, costume design by Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert, and sound design by Kerrie Mondy.
The Chicago area premiere was mounted by Williams Street Repertory in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and directed by Mark Mahallak. The cast included Frank Gaughan as J.D. Drew, Matthias Austin as Benny Perkins, Shannon McHugh Mayhall as Virginia Drew, Sarah Weinstein as Norma Valverde, Amanda Flahive as Kelli Mangrum, Roy Brown as Greg Wilhote, Bree Beelow as Heather Stovall, Alex Newkirk as Mike Ferris, Teresa Arnold as Cindy Barnes, Marian Kaderbek as Janis Curtis, Don Orlando as Don Curtis, Chris Davis as Chris Alvaro, Rob Scharlow as Frank Nugent, Dominic Rescigno as Jesus Peña, and Ricky Harris as Ronald McCowan. Understudies were Kate Wilford and Chris Cunningham. The production ran at the historic Raue Center for the Performing Arts November 21-December 7, 2014.
Theatre Under the Stars in Houston produced the show in June 2014, but artistic director Bruce Lumpkin substantially rewrote the show, without permission, reassigning songs and lyrics, rearranging the order of the songs (and therefore, the order of when contestants dropped out of the contest), adding new incidental music, and cutting sections of songs entirely. Shortly after opening, licensing agent Samuel French sent TUTS a cease-and-desist letter, and the production was closed prematurely.
The Bay Area premiere was mounted by Lucky Penny Productions in Napa, CA, and directed by Taylor Bartolucci, Music Direction by Craig Burdette, Choreographed by Staci Arriaga, Stage Managed by Jeff Bristow, and Lighting Design by April George. The cast included Barry Martin as J.D. Drew, Brian Watson as Benny Perkins, Shannon Rider as Virginia Drew, Daniela Innocenti Beem as Norma Valverde, Kirstin Pieschke as Kelli Mangrum, Ryan Hook as Greg Wilhote, Jenny Angell Lance as Heather Stovall, F. James Raasch as Mike Ferris, Danielle DeBow as Cindy Barnes, Lucinda Cone as Janis Curtis, Dan Monez as Don Curtis, Michael Scott Wells as Chris Alvaro, Matt Davis as Frank Nugent, Alex Gomez as Jesus Peña, and Michael Smith as Ronald McCowan. The production ran at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center June 1-17, 2018. 
The Northeast Ohio Premier took place in Hudson, Ohio by The Hudson Players, and ran from February 1st through February 23. The show featured the actual truck from the Broadway production. It was produced by Sean Donovan and Mark Durbin, directed by Will C. Crosby, assistant direction and stage management by Stephen Berg, with musical direction by Bridget Jankowski, and was choreography by Mo Martin. The players included boastful former winner Benny (Josh Larkin), Jesus-loving Norma (Jessica DeFrange), injured and out-of-work J.D. (Mark H. Durbin) and his devoted wife Virginia (Sharon Lloyd), hopeful dreamers Kelli and Greg (Korinne Carroll Courtwright and Kyle Burnett), sexy schemer Heather (Brooke Lytton), tough and funny Janis (Shelly Palumbo) and her biggest supporter husband Don (Elliott Ingersoll), hard-working Tex Mex Jesus (Santino Palma), troubled Marine Chris (Noah Meaux), boastful ladies’ man Ronald (Adam Clifford Harris), sketchy dealership manager Mike (Sean Donovan), ex-beauty queen PR person Cindy (Jennifer Ranaudo Kubinski) and radio announcer Frank (Jacob Schafer.).
Ten contestants vie for a "hardbody" truck in Longview, Texas. The last contestant who has his or her hands on the truck wins it. The truck is a Nissan "hardbody" pickup (on stage). The lives of each contestant, along with the car dealer and a radio announcer are revealed during the "hardbody" contest.
The show opens with a pickup truck on stage and Benny Perkins walking up to it, illustrating how a 'hands on a hardbody' contest works. The rest of the contestants and contest runners join the stage and all sing about the truck and the contest ("Human Drama Kind of Thing"). The song ends as the contest begins. As the contestants begin to bond they talk about what a truck means to a Texan and why the contestants want the truck and what difference it would make in their life ("If I Had This Truck"). The news crew covering the competition start interviewing the contestants and Janis Curtis and her husband Don catch their attention. Even though he isn't participating in the contest, he is forcing himself to go through everything that his wife has to go through because they're in it together. ("If She Don't Sleep").
It's a ways into the competition now and no one has fallen yet. Benny has been teasing many of the contestants, trying to intimidate them, as he is the only one of them who has won the contest in the past or even participated. He begins belittling Ronald McCowan, who has been snacking on candy bars the whole time. Thusly, he isn't doing so well. He illustrates such with his song "My Problem Right There" while the girls, Kelli, Heather, and Norma are rooting for him because they don't like Benny. The song ends with him taking his hands off and giving up. Benny says that once the first person drops, more people will soon follow.
Benny and the older man in the competition, J.D. Drew have taken to an unlikely partnership. J.D.'s wife, Virginia, keeps visiting and checking up on him, taking care of him during their 15-minute breaks. J.D., however, doesn't like being coddled and pushes her away, saddening her, and she sings about how they used to be when they were young ("Alone With Me"). Then it is revealed that Heather, the common pretty girl in the competition, was chosen by Mike Ferris, one of the people running the competition to win, because she would look good in the advertisements and bring Floyd King Nissan more revenue. He's promised to do what he can to make the competition easier. As he brings lets her sit in the air conditioning they sing ("Burn That Bridge").
Meanwhile, Kelli Mangrum and Greg Wilhote have been bonding. They decide that if either of them wins they will go together to LA ("I'm Gone"). Norma, who's been using her walkman and her faith in God to get her by, begins to crack and breaks into "Uncontrollable Laughter". This bothers Janis immensely and Benny says that it's essentially the beginning of the end. The laughter transitions into a joyful hymn ("Joy of the Lord") that everyone joins in singing, save for Chris Alvaro, the stoic veteran who's been unmoving and unspeaking for the whole competition until he cuts off the song, yelling for everyone to shut up. Everyone's unhappy with Chris's cynical nature and foul language, none more so than Benny, whose son also served. The two exchange nasty words before Chris sings about what it was really like to serve overseas ("Stronger"). By the end he's crying and runs offstage, the second to lose the contest. Benny's quick to remove all sympathy and claims that if he—or any other contestants—can't "Hunt with the Big Dogs" they should stay on the porch with the pups.
Act II begins almost like a commercial with Mike Ferris and Frank Nugent, another host, singing a little ditty aptly named "Hands on a Hardbody". Cindy Barnes, the female host, approaches Jesus Pena, the Mexican contestant and says to him that if he wins she's going to have to see his green card. She repeats what she can in extremely broken Spanish, though he has told her repeatedly that he speaks English and was born in Texas ("Born in Laredo"), commenting on the racism in the state. Another break occurs and after another spat, J.D. also reflects on his and Virginia's marriage ("Alone With Me (Reprise)").
Janis takes it upon herself to police to competition, since she doesn't think that the judges, Mike and Cindy, are doing a very good job of it. She is particularly watching Heather, and claims that she took her hands off the truck to put some lipstick on. Mike does his best to defend Heather and Janis becomes enraged claiming that the competition is fixed ("It's a Fix") and becomes the third person eliminated. As J.D. and Benny bond further, they begin talking about where they live and J.D., Benny, and Norma become wistful about how the town has been taken over by industry and has none of the personality that it had when they were young ("Used to Be").
Contestants begin dropping like flies as Jesus, Kelli, and Greg all fall quickly. Jesus hallucinates he's playing with his dog and takes his hands off as if to throw a ball. Kelli begins essentially sleepwalking and walks right off the stage. Greg is hesitant to follow her and give up the competition, but decides it's more important that she doesn't hurt herself and runs after her. Heather is taking full advantage of her position with Mike and begins complaining about how uncomfortable the gloves they all have to wear to protect the truck are. They begin driving her crazy and she confesses that she was set up to win the competition and forfeits ("It's a Fix (Reprise)"). Benny confesses to J.D. that his legs are going numb, which he said at the beginning is when it's all over. J.D. encourages him to hold on, but Benny loses faith quickly and recounts what life has done to him when he hoped and prayed ("God Answered My Prayers") and reveals that his son killed himself while he was overseas. He lets go.
Ronald and Chris come back to see how the competition is going, Ronald because he wants to support Norma and Chris because he wasn't accepted at home by his son and wife. So they both root on Norma, who loses faith when her Walkman runs out of juice. They begin to sing ("Joy of the Lord (Reprise)") to bring back her spirit, but it works too well, as she takes her hands off to clap. That leaves J.D. as the last man standing and he wins the competition, restoring some of his relationship between him and his wife. In the end, all the characters recount what happens for them after the competition and how the competition changed their lives ("Keep Your Hands on It").
Original Broadway CastEdit
- Keith Carradine - J.D. Drew
- Allison Case - Kelli Mangrum
- Hunter Foster - Benny Perkins
- Jay Armstrong Johnson - Greg Wilhote
- David Larsen - Chris Alvaro
- Jacob Ming-Trent - Ronald McCowan
- Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone - Heather Stovall
- Jon Rua - Jesus Pena
- Keala Settle - Norma Valverde
- Dale Soules - Janis Cutis
The New York Times reviewer wrote that the musical "sings sincerely and with a rough-edged humor of the dusty margins of American life.... features a wry, economical book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright..., along with a soulful score by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio".
The Time reviewer called the musical "engaging", writing:
Trey Anastasio... and lyricist Amanda Green have contributed a flavorful country-Western score that is tuneful, well integrated and evocative of the setting. And choreographer Sergio Trujillo had found inventive ways to keep the stage active, despite the obvious restrictions.
Awards and nominationsEdit
On April 30, the musical received three Tony Award nominations for the 67th Tony Awards. The musical received nine 58th Drama Desk Award nominations including Outstanding Musical, and won in the Outstanding Sound Design category. The production received three Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical, but did not win any awards.
Keala Settle received a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway Debut Performance. The musical received one nomination for the 31st Annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards but did not win.
Original Broadway productionEdit
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