April 10, 2013

"Hands on a Hard Body" Quickly Loses Its Grip

It’s always sad to hear that a show is closing prematurely. And that’s true whether or not you had a good time when you saw it. Cause I’m feeling badly for the cast and crew of Hands on a Hard Body, which posted its closing notice just 18 days after it opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, and I had a really bad time when I saw it.

Now, I have to say that the fault isn’t entirely the show’s. Although its premise, based on a 1997 documentary of the same name, isn’t what you’d call natural material for a musical. 

Here it is in a nutshell: an assortment of down-and-nearly-out Texans enter an endurance contest.  The prize is a red Nissan truck. The winner will be the person who keeps his or her hands on it the longest.  

In the show’s favor, however, seemed to be the fact that it has a book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright (click here for a Q&A with him); music by Broadway baby Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio, frontman for the cult jam band Phish (click here to read about their collaboration); a talented cast lead by Keith Carradine and Hunter Foster; and choreography by the always inventive Sergio Trujillo. 
Alas, it turns out that Wright’s book is unable to make its 10 contestants more than clichés; they’re barely introduced before we’re supposed to be rooting for them. The songs, with the exception of one syncopated gospel number (click here to read about the staging of it) sound as though they’ve all been ladled out from the same country-pop stewpot. 
So despite the game stagecraft of Trujillo and director Neil Pepe (the car turns, the actors perform emotion-baiting arias) Hands on a Hard Body remains pretty much what its title advertises: a bunch of people standing around with their hands on a truck. 
But, as I said, the show is only partly to blame for my having such a bad time. What really did me in is that about 15 minutes into the first act, a guy sitting in the row behind my theatergoing buddy Bill and me, leaned over and threw up. 

He and his family left immediately but, of course, the problem didn’t go with them. Although those of us sitting nearby had been spared direct damage, we all started looking for an olfactory escape. Bill and I spotted some empty seats and moved into them but about 10 minutes later, their very late-arriving owners turned up and the usher proceeded to chastise Bill and me for taking seats that weren’t ours. 
Somehow, the show went on.  One usher came in and sprinkled some disinfectant.  Another found some other seats for Bill and me but they were right in the midst of a group of rambunctious teens who seemed to be on their high school spring trip and who, judging from the whoops and bouts of uncontrolled laughter, seemed to like the show a lot.  


Julie said...

I've had a small child throw up all over my carry-on bag during a flight, so I feel your pain, deeply. (And I completely agree with your thoughts on the cliched show.)

jan@broadwayandme said...

Julie, thanks for the sympathy and for taking the time to leave a comment.