Casualty of War…Hands on a Hardbody Couldn’t Hold On

Springtime on Broadway is a fast and furious time for openings of new shows.  Competition is fierce and there’re bound to be casualties.  This year, the first to fall was Hands on a Hardbody, a musical based on a documentary of the same name.  In fact, the April 13 closing gave Hands on a Hardbody a new, unfortunate title, “Fastest-closing musical of this season.”  This homegrown musical with is rock and roll score did get fair reviews, but the kind words from critics weren’t enough to fill the seats.  I also thought the musical had potential, yet after only 56 performances the lights of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre will be dark until another production takes the stage.  So what went wrong for Hands on a Hardbody?  Here are a few “non-conspiracy” theories F.A.M.E NYC has come up with…

  1.  The Tony’s Race – The 2012-2013 season ends on April 25.  Spring and fall are always major seasons for Broadway, but the reason why there is an overabundance of shows opening in March and April is to secure the opportunity for consideration for this year’s Tony Awards.  With so many shows opening, the little musical that could didn’t have enough selling power to get past Broadway’s spring frenzy to make it to the summer months when Broadway has an extremely light opening schedule. 
  2. Musical Smackdown – This season Broadway had several musicals going head to head for supremacy.  Musicals like Matilda, Motown the Musical, Jekyll & Hyde, Kinky Boots and Cinderella all have audiences they cater to.  Cinderella is a family-friendly show that will draw from the same audiences that have enjoyed Wicked, The Lion King or Mary Poppins.  Who doesn’t love the music of Motown?  The musical simply just has to use the massive power of its overwhelming catalog to fill seats.  Similar to Hands on a Hardbody, Kinky Boots is based on a true story that audiences may be unfamiliar with but the score from Kinky Boots is all the rage.  Jekyll & Hyde and Pippin already have a loyal fan base, and these revivals will rely on heavily on its fans to compete.   Broadway already has its breakout musical for this season with Matilda, with such heavy competition; Hands on a Hardbody would’ve needed a miracle to survive.
  3. Star Power – Tom Hanks, Bette Midler, Deborah Cox, Constantine Maroulis, Cyndi Lauper, Nathan Lane, Ben Foster, Alec Baldwin, Alan Cumming…need I list more?  Broadway is definitely seeing stars this season.  With the exception of Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody was devoid of recognizable actors. Although I rather enjoyed the ensemble cast, Broadway is a business and stars equal ticket sales.

As Hands on a Hardbody shuffles to the Broadway graveyard, I would also like to make mention of its timing.  What this show suffered from most was the time in which it opened.  Instead of trying to battle for a nomination slot in this year’s Tony Awards, it should’ve waited and opened in the summer.  But you know what they say…should’ve, could’ve would’ve.

Although it’s a moot point, to see what F.A.M.E NYC thought of the show, click https://famenycmagazine.com/2013/03/25/hands-on-a-hardbody-places-its-palms-on-broadway/.

Photo:  Broadway.com

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Hands on a Hardbody Places Its Palms on Broadway

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“As American as baseball and apple pie.” If everyone had a dollar each time that phrase was uttered, one probably could rival the new multi-million dollar winner of this weekend’s Powerball. Without a doubt, that saying is probably as old as the White House and in this day and age could probably be replaced with myriad representations of American iconography and culture.  New musical Hands on a Hardbody, shines a spotlight on two USA symbols, rock and roll and trucks.  And after viewing Hands on a Hardbody two things are evident, this musical is made for Americans by Americans and is as true to the red, white and blue as the old “stars and stripes” itself.

While not often seen in the New York metro area, a pickup truck is a still the automobile of choice for scores of Americans in the heartland and southern regions of the U.S. and is the main character for this production.  Based on a 1997 documentary of the same name, Hands on a Hardbody centers on a group of contestants in Longview, Texas hankering to win a brand new truck by placing their hands on the vehicle and enduring the heat and exhaustion until all but one drops off. 

5.185220The musical features an ensemble as eclectic as the proverbial melting pot.  A middle-aged husband (who is an unemployed, disabled worker) is doubling down and trying to relive his youth by winning.  A young Mexican-American man is hedging his bet to go to medical school.  Another young man is looking to prove just how much of a Texan he is by winning the truck and a young woman that wants to burn rubber and drive that truck right out of Texas.  A marine fresh from combat, a holy-rolling songstress, a gregarious playboy, a vixen with a few tricks up her sleeve, a no-nonsense middle-aged woman and a former winner looking to reclaim the glory of victory round out the characters placing their mitts on the truck.  A conniving salesman, his racist female colleague, the mates of the older contestants and the announcer complete the cast of the production.

Similar to In the Heights, the plot of this musical is about achieving the American dream – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and each of these characters have a different comprehension of that dream.  Courtesy of MGM and the Broadway musicals of old, I expect to view a musical with a bunch of extras that help to drive the musical numbers and along with the set, assist in making the numbers spectacular.  Hands on a Hardbody isn’t that kind of musical.  Although the pared down cast equates to a small group, the central character as well as the majority of the set is the truck.  It is a frugal musical that fits well with this economy.  It has a lot of heart and soul; I didn’t miss the pomp that most musicals can have one bit. 

4.185219Most of the grit that makes Hands on a Hardbody grand comes via music by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio and a book by Doug Wright.   Songs like “Joy of the Lord”, “My Problem Right There”, “Born in Laredo”, “It’s a Fix” and “Keep Your Hands on It” offer an accurate description of the modern American experience and allows their rock /bluegrass soundtrack to resonate with the audience.  Led by veteran actor Keith Carradine, the cast does a superb job with the material.  Instead of looking like perfectly trained artisans belting out songs and acting out a script, they appeared more like regular people sharing their dreams and stories of heartbreak and redemption.  Each one of them was someone that you have probably met sometime in your journey and could’ve been sitting in the audience right next to you.  If there were any negative aspect to this musical, it would be the lack of choreography.  The choreography was very pedestrian and reminded me of something I might have seen in a 1990’s Fat Boy Slim video.  Still, the choreography, or lack thereof, had its usefulness.  The movements were on par with the look of the cast.  After all, a pack of ordinary people, which the cast is supposed to embody, would look a little silly trying to complete choreography that required tons of strength and agility.

All and all I thoroughly enjoyed Hands on a Hardbody and could understand why the musical made its way from the La Jolla Playhouse to the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway.  I throw my thumbs to ceiling on this one and would suggest scooting on down to see a musical that is as American as you and me.

Photos: Broadway.com