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The La Jolla Playhouse Production of "Hands on a Hardbody" Is Presented at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
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The La Jolla Playhouse Production of "Hands on a Hardbody" Is Presented at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre

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The La Jolla Playhouse production of:
Hands on a Hardbody
(Hands on a Hardbody Website)

Book by Doug Wright
Lyrics by Amanda Green
Music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green
Based on a film by S.R. Bindler

Directed by Neil Pepe

Brooks Atkinson Theatre
256 West 47th Street

Keith Carradine, Allison Case, Hunter Foster,
Jay Armstrong Johnson, David Larsen, Jacob Ming-Trent,
Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone, Mary Gordon Murray,
Jim Newman, Connie Ray, Jon Rua, Keala Settle,
Dale Soules, Scott Wakefield, William Youmans

Musical Staging: Sergio Trujillo
Musical Direction & Vocal Arrangements: Carmel Dean
Scenic Design: Christine Jones
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Orchestrations: Trey Anastasio, Don Hart
Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
Casting: Telsey + Co./Rachel Hoffman, CSA
Assoc. Choreographer: Lorin Latarro
Marketing: Type A Marketing
Production Stage Manager: Linda Marvel
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions

General Management: Foresight Theatrical/Allan Williams
Press: The Hartman Group
Assoc. Producer: David Carpenter

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 27, 2013

This new show by Doug Wright, with lyrics and music by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio, is based on a documentary about a contest at a Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas, mid-summer. The prize of the contest is a giant red Nissan truck, that’s big enough for ten or so contestants to stand, sit, or crouch, while holding one hand firmly, non-stop, on any spot on the red, hard body of the truck. Every several hours, there’s a brief break for necessities, a snack, and then back to the contest. As a few Texan summer days and nights pass by outdoors, the personalities and internal tumult of each competing character are slowly revealed, mostly through soft rock songs. The spotlight shines on one or two showcased characters, and occasionally the remaining actors are relieved of the physical stasis, by dancing as a chorus in surreal breaks from reality. The lighting helps shift from fantasy to feat. In a few segments, a story drama ensues. The truck, meanwhile, swivels around in place, moves stage left or right, and at one point comes dangerously stage front.

The competing characters have a divergent range of personal needs and goals for this truck. A returning soldier, in financial and traumatic distress, wants to show his son this truck, barreling up their driveway; a fervent prayer obsessed woman sings gospels to keep her going; an injured oilfield worker wants to win the truck so he can take his wife off her degrading job; a former contest winner lost his truck to an estranged wife, a Mexican medical student, from Texas, proves he’s fully American and is geared to be a veterinarian, a heavy man eats chocolate and caves early, an older woman tries to prove age is no obstacle; one woman releases both hands to adjust lipstick; an aspiring actor dashes off after a female contestant that’s scammed by the group into fleeing. In fact, one character says it’s a rough game, and one of survival. Lots of trickery abounded, and jealousy as well, with a tall blond contestant offered favors by the dealership owner, in hopes he’d have a babe to strut through some photo shoots to boost publicity.

Each character had his/her own pathos and persistence, with Hunter Foster standing out as Benny Perkins, the aggressive repeat contestant, and Keith Carradine as JD Drew, the injured oilfield worker. Mary Gordon Murray, although in a minor role, stood out as JD’s dedicated, but micro-managing wife, Virginia. Keala Settle sang her gospels with power and pluck. Jim Newman was Mike Ferris, the conniving dealership owner, with an outsized persona. But, in the gestalt of these two hours of agonizing truck-holding, Hands on a Hardbody was seeped in enervating ennui. Of the nineteen numbers, including reprises, I found “Burn That Bridge” the strongest, with some energized dance. Other songs included “Alone With Me”, “It’s a Fix”, and “Keep Your Hands On It”. It must have been a challenge for Sergio Trujillo to create his “musical staging”, as it was named here, with little room for real choreography. The truck at one point was a platform on which characters lunged and leaped, but the plot was so one-dimensional, with so many hardship sagas and soapy preaching, that the music never caught on. Neil Pepe seemed to direct this show for audience identification, which was incongruous for a musical about a truck. Scenery, costumes, sound, and lighting all seemed less relevant tonight, as we were forced to witness all this physical and emotional angst, until one survivor won the truck. Even then, I had hoped the winner would let the soldier drive it home to his son. I guess I was drawn in, after all, but this show was a letdown.

The Cast of "Hands on a Hardbody"
Courtesy of Chad Batka

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at