This is an above-average musical, but only slightly above average. The ideas behind it are certiainly intrigruging, but are inconsistently developed. Everyone in the creative team has done solid, sometimes even inventive craftswork – all in all, Hands on A Hardbody has some really great parts, but is finally less than the sum of those parts.
Ten Texans, hit hard by bad economic times, fight to keep at least one hand on a brand new truck in order to win it, as part of a dealership promotion, a new lease on life is so close they can touch it. I wasn’t convinced when I heard of the idea that it was great material for a musical. I’m still not convinced, now that I’ve seen it – it’s better than I expected, but again not by much.
Hardbody is by design an ensemble musical, but it’s almost too dogmatically ensemble-oriented. Everybody gets their big moment and their song, whether we’re interested in learning more about that particular character or not.
The happy side of this orientation: everybody in this very strong cast gets a chance to strut their stuff. Keala Settle as warm-hearted Christian lady Norma Valverde stands out, but that’s because the creative team have handed her the show’s strongest moment, a laughing fit that beautifully evolves into the show-stopping “Joy of the Lord”. Composer Trey Anastasio’s contributions are perhaps the most potent, “Joy” being just the most inventive and energetic of a collection of tuneful, emotional and driving songs.
The biggest problem for me: the vast majority of plot points are telegraphed very badly, you can see them coming from a great distance. I’m not sure whether this is more the fault of bookwriter Doug Wright or director Neil Pepe, but it kept me from enjoying discovering these people for myself. I didn’t hate this show, but I can’t whole-heartedly recommend it either.
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