Theater review: ‘Hands on a Hardbody’ hits the brakes

"Hands on a Hardbody" closes this Saturday after opening March 21. Credit: Chad Batka
“Hands on a Hardbody” closes this Saturday after opening March 21.
Credit: Chad Batka

It’s sad to hear that “Hands on a Hardbody,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Wright, will be shuttering its doors on Broadway this Saturday after just 28 previews and 28 performances (it officially opened March 21). Standing out amid a season of revivals (“Pippin”) and jukebox musicals (“Motown: The Musical”), this was a somewhat original work, albeit technically an adaptation of the 1997 documentary by the same name.

Onstage, this endearing portrayal of small-town Americana belies its early closure, which came after poor attendance despite solid reviews and discount ticket sale initiatives. Some numbers — by Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green — elicit sheer rapture (“Joy of the Lord”), while others tackle national social conditions, such as immigration and racism (“Born in Laredo”). Our favorite was the powerful rock ballad “Stronger,” showing Anastasio’s strengths best employed. Despite a convention that’s seemingly stale, as the contestants must always keep their hands on the central set piece, a full-sized red Nissan “hard body” truck, the play has more to offer through the characters’ unique story arcs and solos. It does take a few numbers to warm up, but soon has even cynical New York City audiences hooked (perhaps because for once they aren’t sure what the ending will be or already have the tunes memorized from 20 years ago). One major problem is the story’s pat resolutions and flat platitudes, including a synopsis of how each character’s life turns out.

While we’d love to urge theater aficionados to catch this novelty before it closes, those with limited funds are better off investing in “Kinky Boots” — another new musical with celeb involvement (Cyndi Lauper) that’s based on a film based on a true story, but practically guaranteed to stick around for more than a month.

If you go

‘Hands on a Hardbody’
Through Saturday
Brooks Atkinson Theatre,
256 West 47th St.
$47-$197,
www.handsonahardbody.com

Follow Theater Editor T. Michelle Murphy on Twitter: @TMichelleMurphy, or email her your thoughts at tmichelle.murphy@metro.us.


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