Based on a 1997 documentary by S.R. Bindler and Kevin Morris about a group competing to win a truck from an auto dealership in Longview, TX, the new musical “Hands on a Hardbody” is ready to make its Broadway debut.
In its current run at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA, “Hardbody” received positive reviews. The musical features music by Phish star Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, and a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright. The Playhouse production is directed by Neil Pepe and features a cast including Keala Settle, and Tony nominees Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster. The cast for the desired Broadway production has yet to be announced.
The show is inspired by true events, and features a group of contestants who must keep at least one hand on a new Nissan hardbody truck for as long as possible. The last one standing wins the truck, but to the majority of the contestants, the truck symbolizes more than just a vehicle — it symbolizes the “American Dream.” As the Broadway producers tell Kenneth Jones of Playbill.com, “for ten hard-luck Texans, a new lease on life is so close they can touch it. Under a scorching sun for days on end, armed with nothing but hope, humor and ambition, they’ll fight…only one winner can drive away with the American Dream.”
Producers of the show are targeting the 2012-2013 season for its New York debut, but the exact dates and location are unknown and will be announced later. As described in UT San Diego, “Hardbody” is following in the footsteps of many shows that have debuted at La Jolla, and gone on to be wildly successful in the New York theatre scene. These shows include the current running “Memphis,” “Jersey Boys,” and recent Tony Award nominee, “Peter and the Starcatcher.” According to Christopher Ashley, artistic director of the Playhouse, in UT San Diego, “Hardbody” is “a blazingly clear example of our commitment to new-work development.”
A special thing about La Jolla Playhouse is that they stage many premiere plays and musicals, as well as readings and workshops, including “Page to Stage,” which are developmental projects. The audiences at the Playhouse get to experience brand new shows that are still in development.
As Charles Isherwood of The New York Times describes, “Hardbody” focuses on the struggles of the middle class, and “makes repeated, pointed reference to the brutal realities of the current economy.” The citizens involved in the contest come from modest, middle to low-class families, and sing about their struggles and hardships.
Isherwood describes the way “Hardbody” is different than most upbeat, giddy Broadway shows with a sense of “escapism.” Towards the end of the show the characters part ways and return to their own lives. One of the main characters, Benny, played by Foster, leaves the audience with a “decidedly downbeat conclusion,” said Isherwood, “suggesting that we’re all holding on by our fingertips, in these straitened times, to dreams consistently deferred.”
The musical’s staging and choreography is done by Benjamin Millepied, and performances are at the LJP’s Mandell Weiss Theatre in La Jolla, CA. Performances run at La Jolla Playhouse through June 17.