Review Roundup: HANDS ON A HARDBODY Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The new American musical Hands on a Hardbody oepned last night, March 21, at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Inspired by true events and based on the acclaimed 1997 documentary of the same name that was created by S.R. Bindler and produced by Bindler and Kevin Morris, the musical features a book by Doug Wright (Pulitzer Prize winner, I Am My Own Wife), lyrics by Amanda Green (Bring It On: The Musical), music by Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Amanda Green, direction by Neil Pepe (Broadway's Speed-The-Plow), and musical staging by Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Jersey Boys).
The Broadway production will feature the full cast from the La Jolla Playhouse engagement: Keith Carradine (Tony Award nominee, The Will Rogers Follies), Allison Case (Hair), Hunter Foster (Tony Award nominee, Little Shop of Horrors), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Catch Me If You Can), David Larsen (American Idiot), Jacob Ming-Trent (Shrek The Musical), Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone (Tales of the City), Mary GorDon Murray (Into The Woods), Jim Newman (Curtains), Connie Ray (Next Fall), Jon Rua (In The Heights), Keala Settle (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Dale Soules (Hair), Scott Wakefield (Ring of Fire), and William Youmans (Wicked).
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: 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.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "Hands on a Hardbody," a seemingly far-fetched stage show based on a documentary that features songs co-written by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio, stars a modified Aztec red Nissan. By the end of the show, you'll swear that truck can dance. You might, too. Anastasio and Broadway veteran Amanda Green have written a soundtrack of mostly fine songs in a nice mix of styles - blues, gospel, country and honky-tonk - that will fire you right up. Playwright Doug Wright has had some fun himself, the cast is committed and realistic, and the whole thing is a pleasing, tuneful, heart-filled ode to small towns and American dreams.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Indeed, it's seldom the case that an original musical can list its score among its biggest assets; but co-composers Anastasio, a founding member of the genre-bending rock band Phish, and Green have crafted some infectious and even moving numbers. Veering from funk grooves to country twang, from gospel-kissed production numbers to catchy power ballads, the songs can border on the banal, but they rarely bore.
Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg News: There's nothing unlikable about "Hands on a Hardbody," but little to love, either.
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: Broadway has been sorely in need of a new musical that touches the heart without insulting the intelligence. Now it's got one. "Hands on a Hardbody," in which 10 cash-strapped Texans take part in an endurance contest whose winner will drive home a brand-new pickup truck, is a deeply felt, emotionally true portrait of recession-era American life. The show's unlikely-sounding premise-each of the contestants must keep one hand on the truck until they either give up or collapse-ends up being the occasion for an evening that is by turns festive and thought-provokingly dark. Think "Once," only with a much better score.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Loaded with a cabful of fine performers, this song-laced lament about surviving hard times offers a decent ride. So much so that you wish it were better, tighter and carried a more affecting payoff. As is, it's a bit of a missed opportunity.
Linda Winer, Newsday: "Hands on a Hardbody" may well be the best musical ever written about 10 people holding onto a parked truck. But if you go into the show wondering why a gifted creative team would want to adapt the 1997 documentary about poor Texans in an endurance contest for a red Nissan pickup, you are likely to leave wondering the same thing.
Erik Haagensen, Backstage: After watching S.R. Bindler's 1997 documentary "Hands on a Hard Body"-about a 1994 Texas contest in which people stand around a Nissan truck while always keeping one hand on it, and the last left upright wins the vehicle-I shook my head and thought, "I just don't see it." Nevertheless, many a good musical has been born out of apparently unpromising material. Now that I've experienced "Hands on a Hardbody"...I still haven't seen it. The tuner coarsens its self-effacing, quietly observant source with cheesy soap-opera backstories, forced Lifetime-movie subplotting, and self-righteous hot-button-issue pressing in an obviously manipulative attempt to stir our emotions. Padded out with an unnecessary intermission and extraneous songs to nearly two-and-a-half hours, the proceedings rarely come to life.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Given the static nature of the premise, director Neil Pepe and choreographer Sergio Trujillo do a remarkable job of injecting motion into the production as the contestants drop out one by one due to physical or mental exhaustion. The unpretentious integrity of the material, the straight-up presentation of the characters and the likable cast encourage you to root for them, yielding many affecting moments. However, the show seems stretched at two hours twenty; tightening it into a one-act might heighten its impact. But even if Broadway ends up being only a branding stop, this tender collection of hard-luck heartland stories should go on to become a popular regional entry.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: 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...Still, no matter how this dark tuner fares under Gotham's cold glare, regional bookers should be lining up six deep...If the show has a weakness, it's that the music is so consistently all-of-a-piece that some of the songs tend to melt into one another. But in a character-rich show like this, one of them is sure to stand up and make a musical statement that gets you between the eyes.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: The generally likable, small-scaled and well-meaning show...revolves around an endurance contest staged by a car dealer. Be the last person with your hands on the truck and you can take it home. Let go and you're road kill....The main problem with the piece (aside from some lyrics that feel forced and obvious) is that you probably could guess the casting breakdown without seeing the show.... The piece is not without interest and is quite enjoyable throughout: Trujillo has some zesty one-handed dance numbers, the actors bring a good deal of truth and, more important, the plotting feels far more original than the character types.
Matt Windman, AM New York: One of the simplest, purest ways to create a drama is to expose a competition or game where various individuals are all motivated to win - preferably at any cost.... The musical, which has an underwhelming but heartfelt country-rock score by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green and a penetrating book by Pulitzer-winning playwright Doug Wright, creates an environment where nearly all the participants are suffering economically and are in desperate need of a financial windfall. Neil Pepe's production is quite gripping - most impressive is how the actors manipulate the vehicle and perform dance choreography while their hands are still attached to it.
New York Magazine, Vulture: How do you replace documentary reality with coherent drama when there's virtually no forward action except people collapsing? Hardbody's model seems to be A Chorus Line....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?...For all the worthy effort to valorize lives not usually depicted in musicals, this has the opposite effect: It makes them seem petty.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: The endearing, motley crew with a paw on the Nissan includes the underdog older man with knee problems (Keith Carradine), a blustery former winner (Hunter Foster), a cheery guy who just eats Snickers (Jacob Ming-Trent), a crotchety woman cheered by her devoted husband (Dale Soules, William Youmans), and a religious devotee supported by her church's prayer chain (the show's breakout, Keala Settle).
David Cote, Time Out NY: Hardbody is not fresh enough to defend on the grounds of innovation. Ex-Phish rocker Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green's ballad-heavy country & western score is far too repetitive, generic and poorly integrated into Doug Wright's spunky but sketchy book. Cut a few of the 16 songs, trim the show to 90 minutes, and you might have a sweet, folksy chamber tuner about faith, hope and materialism in America. But it still wouldn't fill a Broadway house.