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Time Out Theater Review: "Hands On A Hardbody"

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The one-time leader of the rock group Phish, Trey Anastasio, recently made his Broadway debut as composer with the new musical "Hands On A Hardbody." Time Out contributing critic David Cote filed the following review.

Based on the 1997 documentary about a Texas contest in which somebody wins a Nissan truck if he or she can keep touching it the longest, "Hands On A Hardbody" prompts the key question: Who’s the target audience? Are tourists going to shell out hundreds of bucks to see 10 broke Texans compete for a free car? Broadway thrives on escapist thrills, not sob stories and bad economic news, we already know.

Before you think I'm just upholding the status quo, let me add: "Hardbody" is not fresh enough to defend on the grounds of innovation. Ex-Phish rocker Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green's score, full of too many country and western ballads, is rather generic and poorly integrated into Doug Wright's spunky but sketchy book.

There is plenty of charm and talent in the cast. Hunter Foster is amusing as cocky, cunning past winner Benny Perkins. Young Allison Case has one of the best numbers, the breaking-away anthem "I'm Gone," which she sings with Jay Armstrong Johnson. Keith Carradine adds world-weary heft as an ex-oil rig worker.

Sergio Trujillo's bouncy choreography works endless variations on dancing around a truck, but both he and director Neil Pepe are hog-tied by the static premise, in which folks tell their story, then, out of exhaustion or frustration, drop out of the game.

Cut a few of the 16 songs, trim the show to 90 minutes, and you might have a sweet, folksy chamber musical about faith, hope and materialism in America. But it still probably wouldn't fill a Broadway house.

While not as dull as watching paint dry on a four-wheeler, "Hands On A Hardbody" has too puny an engine to drive us very far.

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