“Hands on a Hardbody,” a musical about cash-strapped Texans competing for a shiny new pickup truck, pulled into Broadway on Thursday at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in Manhattan.
Based on a 1997 documentary of the same name, the show sets recession-era issues to song as a cast of 15 performs with a hand firmly fixed to a Nissan. (The last contestant touching the truck takes it home.)
The production, which premiered last year at the La Jolla Playhouse, has an experienced trio at the wheel: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright (“I Am My Own Wife”) wrote the book, and Amanda Green (“Bring It On: The Musical”) and Trey Anastasio, frontman of rock band Phish, composed the score.
Times theater critic Charles McNulty in May wrote the show was “refreshing emotional simplicity” but “faltered at times during its test run.”
The musical received a tune-up before its Broadway debut – songs were swapped, the runtime was shortened and choreographer Sergio Trujillo replaced Benjamin Millepied. So what did New York critics think of the production's overhaul?
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times wrote that the show's minimal costumes and staging helped give "voice to a story of average people fighting to hold onto hope in the face of fierce economic headwinds." He added that much like "Once," the "scrappy, sincere new musical brings a fresh, handmade feeling to Broadway."
David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter compared "Hardbody" to "A Chorus Line," writing that the show "weaves together the individual stories of a disparate group of characters" with a collective goal. Rooney also praised Trujillo’s "remarkable job of injecting motion into the production," especially given the "static nature of the premise."
The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones was one of few critics with a negative review, writing that "you probably could guess the casting breakdown without seeing the show" and some lyrics were "forced and obvious."
USA Today’s Elysa Gardner praised the score, writing that Anastasio and Green "crafted some infectious and even moving numbers," as well as director Neil Pepe, who emphasized "the humanity of the characters."