BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre's Wonderful Production of HANDS ON A HARDBODY
Looking over a list of New Line Theatre's shows for the past 23 years is a very telling experience. This is a group dedicated to restoring the old and embracing the new. That's why their current production of Hands on a Hardbody shouldn't shock you that it's so damn good (it really is), because this is exactly what they do so well. They take something tuneful and different, perform it enthusiastically in an intimate environment, and the audience is rewarded with a fresh and invigorating experience. Go see Hands on a Hardbody now!
Inspired by true events, Hands on a Hardbody is centered around a gimmick invented by an auto dealership in order to drum up business. Ten people are given gloves and have to place at least one hand on a truck until there's only one of them left standing. That person wins the truck. But Doug Wright's book and Amanda Green's brilliant lyrics (I mean, really who else could make a reference to Highlander work?) tackle weightier issues that are really emblematic of the economic conditions that act to create such desperate spectacles.
The entire cast really shines in their various roles, and each person gets a song (a great, catchy score by Trey Anastasio and Green) that really defines their character. Marshall Jennings brings a big voice and a jovial personality to his role as Ronald McCowan ("My Problem Right There"), and Todd Shaefer shares a poignant moment with his concerned wife Virginia (Alison Helmer) as the ailing JD Drew during "Alone With Me". Taylor Peitz, (Heather Stovall), contemplates an illicit opportunity with the manager of the dealership, Mike Ferris (an oily Mike Dowdy) during "Burn That Bridge", and young couple Ryan Foizey (Greg Wilhote) and Marcy Wiegert (Kelli Mangrum) fall for one another and express their shared sentiment during "I'm Gone".
Anna Skidis is exceptional as faith-driven Norma Valverde believing strongly in the "Joy of the Lord", and whose sentiments are not shared by scarred army vet Chris Alvaro (Luke Steingruby). Reynaldo Arceno makes a strong impression as Jesus Pena, reacting with the tune "Born in Laredo" when his citizenship is questioned by auto dealership secretary Cindy Barnes (Margeau Baue Steinbau). Cindy Duggan (Janis Curtis) questions the integrity of the competition with her faithful husband Don (Keith Thompson) during the song "It's a Fix". Jeffrey Wright is a former winner named Benny Perkins who bonds with JD, and belts out "Hunt With the Big Dogs". Zachary Allen Farmer rounds out this fine cast as radio personality Frank Nugent, and sings the competition's theme song, "Hands on a Hardbody".
Director Scott Miller finds the heart and humanity in this tale with the aid of a wonderfully talented cast that makes these vocal arrangements soar. Rob Lippert's scenic design is straight forward in its representation of a car dealership, but makes you wonder how that truck got up to the second floor (check out his blog on the New Line home page). Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert's costumes are good fits for each character, and Kenneth Zinkl's nicely renders each mood. Sue Goldford's work as pianist and conductor is simply outstanding, and she's joined by a really tight band that includes: D. Mike Bauer (guitar), Emily Ebrecht (cello), Nikki Glenn (violin), Andrew Gurney (bass), Joel Hackbarth (second keyboard), and Clancy Newell (percussion).
Hands on a Hardbody is funny, poignant, and compelling entertainment. New Line Theatre's production is one that shouldn't be missed, and it continues through June 21, 2014.
photo credit: Jill Ritter