HANDS ON A HARDBODYBook by Doug Wright
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green
Based on the documentary film by S.R. Bindler and Kevin Morris
Direction and Scenic Design by Jeffrey Schmidt
Music Direction by Sheilah V. Walker
Choreography by Zenobia Taylor
Lighting Design by Amanda West
Costume Design by Bruce Richard Coleman
Sound Design by Marco Salinas
Stage Management by Stew Awalt
CAST (In alphabetical order)
Major Attaway as Ronald McCowan
Leah Clark as Norma Valverde
Sergio Antonio Garcia as Jesus Pena
Martha Harms as Cindy Barnes
Jim Johnson as JD Drew
John Jones as Don Curtis/ Dr. Stokes
Monét Lerner as Heather Stovall
Delynda Johnson Moravec as Virginia Drew
Ethan Norris as Frank Nugent
Chris Ramirez as Chris Alvaro
Aaron Roberts as Mike Ferris
Nancy Sherrard as Janis Curtis
Garret Storms as Greg Wilhote
Molly Welch as Kelli Mangrum
Ashley Wood as Benny Perkins
Sheilah V. Walker – Conductor/Piano
Hayden Oliver – Fiddle/Mandolin
Rick Norman – Bass
Russell Mirabelli – Guitar
Buddy Hrabal – Steel Guitar
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Schmidt
Reviewed Performance: 9/29/2014
Reviewed by Richard Blake, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The musical deals with ten contestants vying for a Nissan hardbody pickup truck in Longview, Texas. The last contestant that has his or her hands on the truck wins it. The lives of each contestant, along with the car dealer, his assistant and a radio announcer, are revealed during the contest. With nineteen songs and reprises in genres of blues, gospel, country and honky-tonk, you are kept thoroughly engaged and the show moves along wonderfully.
The book is written by Doug Wright, an acclaimed playwright who made his professional debut at Theatre Three as a 15-year-old sophomore from Highland Park High School. It is a poignant, moving and sometimes in-your-face story that never discounts or mocks the people he’s writing about. They ARE real people presented AS real people, dealing with real life situations and scenarios. From making sales quotas to dealing with racial stereotypes and societal connotations, you are drawn into each character fully and each one is well written. Some difficult topics are addressed; however, you follow the story with no hesitation to the end. This is a wonderful script and it’s very obvious why Mr. Wright has won so many awards, including a Tony Award and the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 2004.
The music and lyrics duo of Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green knock it out of the park in this musical. Every song tells a story, every character has a moment in the spotlight (literally), and every orchestration is refreshing and new. No song seems just “put-in” because one is needed for the plot; each one has a point and a purpose. I was particularly impressed by the duet “I’m Gone” and the powerful, striking lyrics and orchestrations of “Stronger” which I believe is now one of my top ten favorite musical theatre songs. Uplifting and comedic or sullen and emotionally raw, every note played and sung leaves you feeling fulfilled and ready to take on the world with a new passion for life.
Jeffrey Schmidt gives this new musical style and excitement, and showcases his directorial talents. You are engaged every moment and wait for the next moment of theatre brilliance. His blocking, which by the way involves an actual Nissan Hardbody truck, is impeccable. Theatre Three is an in-the-round venue that could pose difficulty to an unseasoned director. Mr. Schmidt has absolutely no issues artistically and his talent shines throughout the entire production.
Also acting as Scenic Designer, Mr. Schmidt perfectly replicates a small town Nissan dealership on the Norma Young Arena Stage. Translucent showroom windows painted with the Texas flag, the parking lot and billboards transport you immediately to Longview, Texas with style and brilliance. In one of the most memorable scenes in Act Two, you see the true beauty of his design aided by the lighting that supported the stunning music being sung. Bravo wearing both hats Mr. Schmidt... Bravo!
I have to give special mention to of all things... the brilliant red Nissan Hardbody truck used in the show. Great attention and, from what I understand, a lot of time and dedication went into finding “the one” for the show. Yes folks, it’s a real truck whose tires rest on four small rolling castor-type dollies similar to ones used to move grand pianos. At first I didn’t know why... but then the show started and wow! The truck is a principal character in the show. Without it, there IS no show. It’s even more important than having the chandelier in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera which is says a ton. Speaking of weight, huge kudos to the cast for moving, dancing on, climbing over and through, and using the largest prop I’ve ever seen with perfection.
Choreography by Zenobia Taylor is another shining theatrical star in the show. It isn’t a huge dance musical, but the moments that are and the movements created are perfect and support the production with each number. Every inch of the stage, including in, around and on the truck, is used in the choreography with great success. All the movement in the show is fresh, outside-the-box and exciting.
Lighting design by Amanda West is another successful part of this production. One might think a one location show would be simple to light properly, but the scenes take place from day to night over and over again. West basks the stage in warm ambers and whites during the day and sets a beautifully saturated midnight blue tone for night all the while lighting the performers perfectly. I was truly impressed with the lighting as the entire ensemble is rotating the truck in the center of the stage while actors are in the truck bed singing. Remember, this is in the round, and every moment the actors/truck are turned, the entire lighting grid design shifts, resulting in a flawless merging of cast/scenic movement executed with fixed lighting instruments. One of the finest examples of lighting design excellence I’ve seen in a very long time.
Bruce Richard Coleman’s costume design is spot-on! Every character is represented by his or her wardrobe without fail or confusion. The aviator sunglasses on a former Marine, the revealing dress of a restaurant hostess, conservative clothing on a God fearing woman; every choice is perfect. There is a lot of action in this production and never did an actor look uncomfortable in their clothing. There are some lovely little touches to look for with some of the costuming so pay close attention to get a little smile.
Sound design by Marco Salinas rounds out the exceptional design talents in the show. Wonderful sound effects of crickets in the nighttime scenes and distant cars driving by and honking while the competition is happening are just a few of the wonderful elements. The singing is balanced with the orchestra and you’re never once distracted by any element of his design.
Hands on a Hardbody has one of the freshest, energetic and vocally superb casts that have ever graced the Theatre Three stage! Every member of this true ensemble supports the story with their depth of character and pure professionalism.
There is no real “star” or “lead” role in the musical, but every cast member IS a star at some moment. Each person gets a featured solo, duet or leads the rest of the cast in spectacular song. The truest example of this isn’t the title song as many would assume. Although it is wonderful, the acapella performance of “Joy of the Lord”, led by Lea Clark as Norma, raises the roof off the theater with explosive tone, talent and perfect pitch. It is a magnificent representation of the cast working together flawlessly. The thunderous applause before the song quite finished, and continuing afterwards (even after a plot moment is revealed), is proof of that.
There are a few moments that really, really struck me. The duet with Garret Storms and Molly Welch in “I’m Gone” is performed with such innocence and emotion you fall in love with them both instantly. The beautiful tone and emotion of Chris Ramirez in “Stronger” was so powerfully charged with emotion and rawness I was left awestruck. One of the more lighthearted moments is the duet between Nancy Sherrard and John Jones in “If She Don’t Sleep”, which is performed with brilliance and true professionalism.
Hands on a Hardbody was nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The Broadway run was short, basically one month, which is one reason Theatre Three Co-Founder and Executive Producer Jac Alder acquired the rights. He was quoted in an interview as saying, “I think the show deserves so much better recognition than it got in New York. Doug wrote this with a deep respect and sympathy for the people in the original film. He doesn’t mind showing that in the wholeness of these people there are flaws, but he’s not mocking them...”
Well, Mr. Alder, I for one am very glad you pursued this new American musical treasure and decided Theatre Three should showcase it here in North Texas.
Every once in a while a show comes along that gets labeled “Don’t Miss”. Hands on a Hardbody epitomizes that phrase and is one you DON’T want to miss!
2800 Routh Street
Dallas, TX 75201
Show runs thru October 19th, 2014
Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm. Hooky Matinee performance is on Wednesday, Oct. 8th at 2:00 pm, and an additional performance is on Saturday, Oct. 18th at 2:30 pm.
Tickets range from $25.00-$50.00 depending on seating location. Seniors and students receive a $3.00 discount for most performances. Hooky Matinee tickets range from $10.00-$15.00.
For more information, please visit www.theatre3dallas.com or call their box office at 214-871-3300.