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Hands on a Hardbody

a Musical
by Doug Wright (book), Trey Anastasio (music), Amanda Green (lyrics and music)

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4724

SHOWING : May 07, 2015 - May 31, 2015



Inspired by the true events of the acclaimed 1997 documentary of the same name, this new musical is infused with a soulful rockabilly score. "Hands On A Hardbody" is the hilarious, hard-fought contest deep in the heart of Texas, where only one winner can drive away with the American dream. 10 contestants. 4 days. 1 truck.

Director Brian Clowdus
Music Director Ann-Carol Pence
Mike Ferris Jeremy Aggers
Jesus Pena Ricardo Aponte
Greg Wilhote Benjamin Davis
Heather Stovall Laura Floyd
Kelli Mangrum Randi Garza
Janis Curtis Jill Hames
Don Curtis Steven L. Hudson
Benny Perkins Rob Lawhon
JD Drew Matt Lewis
Cindy Barnes Jessica Meisel
Virginia Drew Wendy Melkonian
Ronald McGowan Eric D. Moore
Frank Nugent Matthew Sidney Morris
Chris Alvaro Jeremy Wood
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They Shoot Nissans, Don’t They?
by playgoer
Monday, May 18, 2015
"Hands on a Hardbody," like "Steel Pier," is a musical chronicling a marathon contest (a truck-winning contest in the first case; a dance contest in the second case). This is an inherently depressing concept, since the winner will be drained and hardly in physical shape to celebrate a triumph, and the losers will have nothing to celebrate, although they may have entered the contest with high hopes and/or financial need. No matter what platitudinous moral is expressed at the end, nothing can disguise the fact that dreams have been dashed and expectations shattered. No wonder neither musical lasted long on Broadway.

Sound designer Bobby Johnston and lighting designer Mike Post have ignored the dictum "less is more" in this production. Sound is at a near-uncomfortable level throughout (when technicians remember to turn on an actor’s microphone in time), and lighting effects swirl and attempt to provide movement that actors whose hands are glued to a Nissan truck have a hard time accomplishing.

Set designer Shannon Robert has created a scaffolded background for the candy apple red truck that forms the centerpiece of the action. The seven-piece band is visible on the upper level, and a lower level stage left acts as the used car lot’s office. Some musical numbers and scenes involving the non-contestant characters take place on the scaffolding; otherwise, the action is restricted to the area around, in, and on the Nissan truck.

Jen MacQueen has choreographed movement that relies heavily on sliding hands along the truck’s body and/or actors physically rotating the truck. The rules of the contest -- that each contestant must have one hand on the truck at all times and may not lean or sit -- are frequently abolished during the musical numbers to allow additional movement and to create stirring tableaux.

Brian Clowdus has directed the show at a brisk pace, leading to an overall sameness in the stories told by each of the ten contestants. It doesn’t help that the rock concert-wannabe sound mix is so heavy on the instrumentals that lyrics are often hard to distinguish, particularly when actors are singing in a range that doesn’t allow a full-out belt. The only number I found particularly appealing was the a cappella number (and its encore) led by Diany Rodriguez.

"Hands on a Hardbody" is filled to the brim with the cream of Atlanta’s musical theatre performers. Every one of them does fine, professional work. Consequently, there are no standouts and no particular disappointments. This is truly an ensemble work. Elizabeth Rasmusson has costumed the actors in a character-defining wardrobe that, due to the concept, varies very little from start to finish.

My disappointments in the production stem primarily from the material. The music is up-tempo for the most part, while the storyline gets progressively bleaker, with the disconnect a pretty bald-faced attempt to keep things up-beat. Word stresses in the lyrics sometimes don’t ring true, in ways that could easily have been fixed. The book, perhaps hog-tied by the source material being a film documentary, ends with a winner whose victory has very little resonance in terms of the storylines shared with the audience. "Grey Gardens" took a documentary and expanded upon it, creating a satisfying theatrical experience. "Hands on a Hardbody" takes a documentary and papers it over with song, resulting in a so-so theatrical experience. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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