There is a good musical somewhere in HANDS ON A HARDBODY, with music by Phish's Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green (Bring It On). The only problem is it isn't what's being performed right now at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
HANDS ON A HARDBODY, based on the 1997 documentary of the same name, is the story of ten strangers all competing to win a new truck, by keeping their hand on the truck longer than anyone else. Weaved within the competition, the audience learns about the lives and struggles of the ten contestants.
The music was actually a lot stronger than I expected, but what really brought the show down was the lyrics, which used cheap rhymes and didn't truly help move the story along. The lyrics took me out of the story because they seemed so out of place, especially for a Broadway musical. You can preview a song, "I'm Gone," on the show's website.
The story and book were alright, but the problem stood in the fact that it didn't make the audience truly care about the characters or who won the competition. When the winner was announced, I could have cared less because I didn't care about any of the characters. There were some strong moments, but they were too scattered.
The concept for the story was really strong, and it allowed for a lot of creativity, but the staging was very bland and didn't promote the story in the slightest. They tried to be creative and use the truck (the main set piece), but it ended up being clunky and cut off sight lines (and I was in the center of the orchestra).
The performances were also inconsistent. Keala Settle started off weak, but ultimately had the strongest performance in the end. Her song was by far the highlight of the show. Hunter Foster had a strong presence, but his character was too one-note until the end of the show. Allison Case and Jay Armstrong Johnson were stand outs for me performance-wise, as they were consistently strong the whole time, but the book didn't give them enough to work with.
I really wanted this show to be great because it is a great and unique concept. I think it has the makings of a great musical, but I doubt it will find it before opening night next week. If it had more time in development, or wasn't on Broadway, it could be great. It's just not the calibur that is expected of a new Broadway musical and I have a feeling it won't be around long (I hope I am proven wrong).