Hands on a Hard Body Director’s Notes:
Dallas playwright Doug Wright said in an interview: “…The political dialogue in our country has become so obstructionist and strident, we wanted to write a piece that showed humble, everyday Americans exhibiting some of the noble characteristics that have always been innate in our national character: altruism, ambition, strength of purpose, hope and the desire to flourish in the face of hard-won opportunity. It’s an inspirational show but not in a hokey way; it acknowledges life’s difficulty but celebrates our ability to confront it.”
Doug beautifully sums up the charm and intrigue of this musical. At first glance it seems incredibly simple, a competition to win a pickup truck; yet beneath the surface, there is a complex set of characters in a challenging situation. It is not a typical Broadway formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. It doesn’t show us the refined high society characters with their snappy repartee. It isn’t set in a big city or exotic mystical locale. These are humble, lovable, everyday people in a not so glamorous car lot in Longview Texas. The show is about honest real people attempting to live their dream. The characters we encounter in Hands on a Hard Body are not rich, they are not sophisticated, they are not polished; they are you and me.
Game shows and reality tv have, for better or worse, taken over our society. This musical takes us to the event of a dealership competition and makes us become a part of the live audience. We meet the myriad of contestants and through the clever music and dialogue come to understand their hardships and dreams. We get caught up in the lives of each of them and hope that they will be the winner of that shiny new truck and consequently live happily ever after. Each character has a wonderful and complex story to share with us. As the show progresses, we cheer for their success and tear up for their failures. We find ourselves caught up in their lives and hoping that they will come out on top. They are real people trying to live the American dream. They are: the Bachelorette, the Undercover Boss, the Price is Right contestant; and we are the live studio audience.
Broadway has shifted to everyman musicals over the years. The first one of note was one that is dear to me, A Chorus Line. It featured the hopes and dreams of a group of chorus dancers, not unlike the group of everyday dreamers in Hands on a Hardbody. We now have Come From Away which follows the lives of the displaced passengers in Newfoundland during the 911 air lockdown, scared and unsure of their situation. While each of these is different in style and composition, they all feature real people in everyday situations. They each lead us to follow the stories and aspirations of the characters, rooting for their victory: in getting cast, in getting the truck, in getting home. We feel for them and live vicariously through their dreams and actions. These shows hold a mirror up to us and we find ourselves seeing through the eyes while sharing the aspirations of the participants… leading us to realize we are actually looking not at characters, but at ourselves.
Here’s to you and I finding that great American dream!
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