Bob Goepfert Reviews "Hands On A Hardbody"

Jul 20, 2014

“Hands on a Hardbody,” is a tender, contemporary musical about the American dream.  It’s about ten people who enter a contest that demands a person keep at least one hand on a truck until all others drop out.  The last person standing wins the vehicle.

However, since in this work the “American Dream” is represented by the reward of a Japanese Nissan “Hardbody” pick-up truck rather than an American built truck, the metaphor might suggest the show is more about the failure of the “American Dream.” 

Don’t be misled.  Yes, the show does show the ills of American society – social as well as economic  - but, ultimately the musical is an affirmation of the human spirit.   Though only one person wins the truck, many people win just by being in the contest.

“Hands on a Hardbody” is playing at Park Playhouse in Albany through July 26 and for anyone who appreciates theater this is a wonderfully performed show that offers two and half hours of thoughtful entertainment.   It is available without an admission charge.

“Hardbodies” is not a “bells and whistles-type” musical with a lot of energetic, brassy musical or dance numbers.  There are a couple of rousers and even a Stomp-type number where the truck becomes a musical instrument.  But, mostly it’s a character-driven show filled with gentle rewards and memorable moments.  And though book heavy, the experience will stay with you long after you leave the amphitheater in Washington Park.

Though there are no blockbuster numbers in the show, the eclectic music written by Trey Anastasio (of Phish) and Amanda Green is often compelling.   It’s a mixture of bluegrass, country, soothing rock, and memorable gospel.   The main strength of the score is each song serves the character, yet serves as a stand-alone number.

“Hardbodies” is that unique musical with a thoughtful story and characters you learn to care about.  The characters are written to represent all segments of society and tend to border on stereotype.   However, thanks to strong performances they become flesh and blood people with whom you can relate.  

This is an ensemble show.  The style of the show is like “A Chorus Line” because it is about the common dream of a group, but each member of the group has a revelatory moment to shine and reveal their hopes, fears and needs.

The show is filled with people who are nice almost to a fault.   Director Michael LoPorto might have benefited by finding more edge in certain characters to compensate for the tension that is lost by everyone being so lovable.  Because of this mood we eventually stop caring who will win the truck because all seem worthy.  

However, LoPorto does stage the show cleverly as the entire company moves the truck about the stage with energy and purpose.  The style of the work makes for a slow pace, but to his credit, except for the final 15-20 minutes of the production, the director is able create interesting staging to keep moving what is essentially a static show.  But as the survivors dwindle so does the drama and the climax of the play seems anti-climactic. 

“Hands of a Hardbody” is not your typical free theater in the park.   But it is worthy and entertaining work that should be seen.

“Hands on a Hardbody” by Park Playhouse at Albany’s Washington Park Lakehouse.   Through July 26.  Performances 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.  Free, with $16 paid reserved seats available.

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.   

 

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