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Review Round-Up: Broadway Gets Hard

March 30th, 2013

The cast of "Hands on a Hardbody." (photo: Chad Batka)

What happens when you pit 10 Texans against each other in a contest of stamina and strategy in order to win a brand new truck? Apparently you get a pretty decent new Broadway musical according to the reviews that have surfaced this week of Hands on a Hardbody.

Inspired by true events (and a 1997 documentary of the same name), the creative team of Doug Wright (book), Amanda Green (music and lyrics), Trey Anastasio (music), Neil Pepe (direction) and Sergio Trujillo (musical staging) have created a humorous and poignant look at ambition and the different facets of the American dream.

In spite of good notices, the musical is struggling at the box office — big time. According to The New York Post, there are rumors that the show’s closing is eminent in spite of stand-out performances by Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster.

Hands on a Hardbody
Brooks Atinkson Theatre
256 West 47th Street

Here’s what the critics have to say…

“Although it’s far from fully loaded in a conventional sense, this scrappy, sincere new musical brings a fresh, handmade feeling to Broadway, which mostly traffics in the machine tooled. (Last year’s Tony winner “Once” was a notable exception.) Burrowing into the troubled hearts of its characters, it draws a cleareyed portrait of an America that’s a far cry from the fantasyland of most commercial musicals. “Hands on a Hardbody” simply sings forth a story of endurance, hardship and the dimming American dream, which increasingly seems to hover on the distant horizon like some last-ditch motel whose neon lights are blinking out one by one.” The New York Times

“The production is earnest and solidly performed by a cast including Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster under the direction of Neil Pepe. But all of their skill, and the authors’, can’t finesse a problem of emotional scale. How much can even a Texan want a truck? When the opening number (“Human Drama Kind of Thing”) announces that the winning contestant is “bound for glory,” you feel the workings of a giant air pump artificially swelling the characters’ motivations to singable size. For all the worthy effort to valorize lives not usually depicted in musicals, this has the opposite effect: It makes them seem petty.

But then something happens near the end of the first act: The Bible-clutcher (Keala Settle, sublime) gets the giggles. This leads to a bravura laughing aria and, eventually, a mostly a cappella gospel number called “Joy of the Lord” that successfully combines the personal and communal and lifts the show into musical-theater heaven. It hasn’t much to do with the truck, but it’s daring and thrilling and wins some sort of contest, hands down.” Vulture

“Well, Broadway finally got itself an all-American musical in “Hands on a Hardbody.” The question is, will an all-American audience go for it? It’s hard to picture hotel concierges, travel agents and group sales ladies pitching tourists a show about some working-class stiffs from East Texas clinging desperately to a cherry-red pickup truck in a marathon competition to win it. Better to comp New York cabbies and cops to spread the word about this offbeat but totally endearing show. Still, no matter how this dark tuner fares under Gotham’s cold glare, regional bookers should be lining up six deep.” Variety

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