A contest is held every year by a Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas. Ten people stand around a red $15,000 hard body pickup truck. When the starting whistle blows, each person puts one hand on the truck. They wear gloves, so as not to mess up the paint job. And they keep standing there (with some 15 minute breaks) until one by one, each gets tired or no longer motivated and drop away, with one person left standing. That person gets to keep the truck. This is the premise for the new Broadway musical, Hands On A Hard Body, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
Let’s begin with the characters. Each contestant sang their “poor me” solo to back up their need for the truck. Music was fine but the lyrics were getting pretty predictable and sometimes, the diaglogue. One character sounded like Forrest Gump when he spoke, but lost the accent when he sang. Same with the “Mexican” who either spoke Spanish or English with a Spanish accent.
It was getting predictable when the actors did their “show off” number and were the next to leave. The whole thing reminded me of a jazz band. They all play the song and then each plays their solo of which the audience is forced to applaud.
Here are the ten contestants. J.D. Drew (Keith Carradine), 60, is a “good old boy” with gray hair and a high grin. He is accompanied by his wife, Virginia (Mary Gordon Murray). Greg Wilhote (Jay Armstrong Johnson), early 20’s, a freckled white kid with a baseball cap. Kelli Mangrum (Allison Case), 22, pretty brunette with steel ambition. Jesus Pena (Jon Rua) the Mexican kid in is 20’s, who keeps reminding us that he is a US citizen. Heather Stovall (Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone), 29, a flirtatious blonde restaurant hostess.
Janis Curtis (Dale Soules) is a tough old lady with sun-burnished skin and missing teeth. Her husband, Don (William Youmans) wears a cardboards sign “I love you Janis, Go baby Go”. Ronald McCowan (Jacob Ming-Trent), 35, a good-natured African-American with a slight Louisiana accent. His singing is predictable. Chris Alvaro (David Larsen) is a well-built ex-marine wearing a pair of aviator glasses that conceal his eyes. Norma Valverde (Keala Settle) is a stout Latina woman in tennis shoes and a floral appliqué t-shirt. It becomes quite clear that she is motivated by God. In fact, she provides the audience with a number (“Joy Of The Lord”) that begins with her contagious laughter leading into a choreographed dance as each of the others join in and move the truck in various directions…the highlight of the play.
I didn’t leave humming any of the songs, composed by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green.
On the positive side…everyone was on key and other than accents, they all did a fine job both in full numbers and solos. The choreography by Neil Pepe was well done. Not much on sets and that’s okay. Other than the truck there was a stage left area devoted to the Nissan dealership.
Perhaps there will be a show about the New York tradition of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and call it, “Hands On A Soft Weiner.”