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Photo: The cast of HANDS ON A HARDBODY from Refuge Theatre Project | Nick Roth
By Marie Warner
Based on the 1997 documentary of the same name, Refuge Theatre’s production of HANDS ON A HARDBODY tells the story of a group of Texans locked in a battle of wills to see who will win a new truck. The last person still standing with one hand on the “hardbody” wins. It’s a physical and mental test for the ages.
Trey Anastasio of Phish and Amanda Green wrote the libretto, and it is full of tuneful, if not particularly memorable southern rock and country songs. All of the music is enjoyable but rarely memorable.
This is an incredibly talented cast. Molly Kral, Alli Atkenson, and Cathy Reyes-McNamara are powerhouse vocalists and talented actors. Roy Samra and Atkenson have great chemistry and their duet “I’m Gone” is lovely. All pull their weight vocally and have solid individual moments. Dan Gold’s portrayal of the skeevy dealership manager was the only one that veered too far into caricature. The highlight of the show for me was Reyes-McNamara on “Joy of The Lord.”
The challenges of staging a musical around mostly stationary people are enormous. Choreographer Ariel Triunfo and director Christopher Pazdernik had their work cut out for them trying to bring movement into this show. They were able to accomplish this by moving the truck itself and allowing the characters to step out of their circumstances for some songs, but the staging does feel stagnant at times.
I love Refuge Theatre’s commitment to “under-produced, under-appreciated musical theatre.” HANDS ON A HARDBODY is not a show being done often and I do think it’s one that deserves to be seen. I did have issues with the length, and felt that the first act, in particular, could have used some cuts. Overall, I think Refuge has accomplished their goal and produced an enjoyable showcase for some talented actors.
“Hands on a Hardbody” runs through April 27. For more information visit refugetheatre.com.