HANDS ON A HARDBODYBook by Doug Wright
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green
Granbury Theatre Company
Director: Shane Brooks
Assistant Director: Matt Beutner
Music Director: Jamie Deel
Choreographer: Brittany Jenkins
Scenic Designer: Kerri Pavelick
Costume Designer: Emily Warwick
Lighting Designer: Kalani Morrissette
Sound Designer: Kyle Hoffman
J.D. Drew: Jay Lewis
Kelli Mangrum: Tiffany Hyatt
Benny Perkins: Brian Lawson
Greg Wilhote: Andrew Bullard
Chris Alvaro: Charles Mason
Ronald McCowan: Damond Cobin
Heather Stovall: Stephanie Simmons
Virginia Drew: Amanda Williams Ware
Mike Ferris: Tim Herndon
Cindy Barnes: Mia Cree Washington
Jesus Peña: Michael Bush
Norma Valverde: Emily Warwick
Janis Curtis: Drenda Lewis
Frank Nugent: Nathan Early
Don Curtis: Greg Doss
Dr. Stokes: Taylor Ray Donaldson
Reviewed Performance: 5/19/2018
Reviewed by Holly Reed, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The story literally centers around a truck—which took centerstage for the entirety of the show. Having an entire full-length musical set in one location for all scenes could prove to be a challenge, keeping the moment fresh and the viewer engaged, but for the most part, the Granbury cast and crew was successful. Very intentional use of lighting variations were helpful to keep the setting somewhat changing—such as when we moved from day to night. Choreography can also prove difficult when all of the main characters are required to keep at least one hand on the truck in the middle of the stage for the entirety of the show. Choreographer Brittany Jenkins was pretty ingenious in her use of dance, blocking, and group choreography under this heavy restraint. The truck was able to spin around, so that was helpful and used often to create larger movements on stage.
From the opening number, the actors’ portrayal of character, demographic and dialect was pretty spot-on. It was a rag-tag bit of backwoods folk, which can be tricky to pull off well. There is always the risk of an actor going too far—overacting—with a strong stereotypical role. But we ARE in Texas, so I’m sure any Texan can handle acting like one, dialing it up or down as demographic need. We all know people like the characters in the show, so instead of having to get in a writer’s mind to analyze the character they created, an actor can simply channel the vibe of that man that lives down the street, the lady they know at church, or that old man always eating breakfast at Whataburger. The salt-of-the-earth folk. You know them. We all do. So this story is about them and their struggles and demons and desires. You’ll find your story in theirs to some degree I’m sure. Costume designer (and actress portraying Norma Valverde) Emily Warwick hit the nail on the head—down to her own fanny pack and scrunchy socks. So classic.
Although the musical proved to be very successful, the opening number, “Human Drama Kind of Thing,” was probably the weakest song. It felt like the cast just needed a little time to warm up, because after that, they were all firing on all cylinders (pun intended). As soon as they got into “If I Had This Truck,” I was hooked, especially by Stephanie Simmons (Heather Stoval) with her smooth country vocals. The classic I Want song sung by all the cast solidified not only the what, but the why. Winning that truck was somehow going to satisfy unanswered questions, insecurities, and long lost dreams. The rest of the songs were unfoldings of how that why was going to be answered in the characters’ individual lives.
The actors were all connected and believable, again, working in a tricky demographic that could lean towards schtick and parody. The rootin’ tootin’ loudmouth of the show—and also the one with the greatest journey and transformation—was Benny Perkins, played by actor Brian Lawson. He was the one you couldn’t stand, you really hoped he wasn’t going to win that truck. I was actually surprised he didn’t, as he was definitely the leader of the pack. Brian was vocally aggressive and bold a la Hank Williams, Jr. on “Hunt With The Big Dogs.”
The two vocal showstoppers were Damond Cobin (Ronald McCowan) and Emily Warwick (Norma Valverde). With soul, vocal control and strong gospel influence, they took charge of both stage and audience with the big numbers “My Problem Right There” (Cobin) and “Joy of the Lord” (Warwick).
I also enjoyed the dynamics in the couples. The young lovers (Greg Wilhote and Kelli Mangrum) played by Andrew Bullard and Tiffany Hyatt were fun and playful. Greg was always over the top but precious nonetheless. Their song “I’m Gone” was one of my favorites, tempting the get-outta-dodge in all of us. Drenda Lewis and Greg Doss (as Janis and Don Curtis) surprised me that they didn’t have the same last name in the program. They played off each other beautifully and were convincing as that couple that goes to Dairy Queen and shares a Blizzard every Thursday night. Jay Lewis and Amanda Williams Ware (J.D. and Virginia Drew) were the other side…annoyed, hopeless, pragmatic. The greatest moment was the end when they reconcile, and the closing song “Keep Your Hands On It” was so satisfying…the clever turnaround of the materialistic hands on the hardbody, verses not letting go of what you really love. Great finale.
The supporting actors were all brilliant and rounded out the roles nicely. The music was strong and never lacked verve. These guys really wanted that truck.
Take the beautiful drive down to Granbury Opera House to see Hands on a Hardbody. No spoiler alerts here. You’ll have to endure the heat (both from the Texas sun and the empassioned competitors) to see who hangs on.
Granbury Theatre Company
Playing May 16–28, 2017
at the Granbury Opera House
133 E. Pearl Street, Granbury, TX 76048
Performances run May 11–June 3. Tickets range from $20 to $30.
Tickets may be purchased online at ticketstothecity.com or by calling 817.579.0952.