Hands on a Hardbody – Park Playhouse (Albany, NY), 7/24/14

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I can’t always predict what is going to spark my attention. Like most people, I have my particular triggers for what I am going to be interested in; you come to me with anything related to the NY Yankees, The Wire, Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Seinfeld (man or show), Jon Hamm, Dave Grohl, Jack White, Jimmy Fallon, Journey, or the Muppets and you are guaranteed to at least spark my interest. These are well established and my affinity for these people and things has been exploited on more than one occasion by someone trying to get themselves out of the doghouse. If Hamm and Fallon teamed up to do a baseball movie and the soundtrack was done by the Foo Fighters, I don’t think anyone would be surprised at my enthusiasm and obsession with that project (which, by the way, sounds AMAZING – someone start working on it).

Then there are other times when I’m not particularly sure why something has struck my fancy; absent any of my normal indicators, I still occasionally get very invested in projects that I wouldn’t necessarily predict. This is not to say that people don’t like things outside their normal interests – of course they do. Rather, it is the level of interest that is a surprise to me. Sometimes I just fixate on some unexpected things. The musical Hands on a Hardboy is one of those things.

When I first heard that they were developing a musical based on the cult documentary of the same name, there was no reason that should have captured my attention. While I really enjoy documentaries – especially about out of the ordinary things – I hadn’t seen Hands on a Hardbody. The film wasn’t easily available on DVD or streaming; in fact, the only reason I even knew of its existence was because it was occasionally referenced on Pop Candy, a blog that I used to religiously read (and that inspired me to start my own blog). So I didn’t have any deep affinity for the source material, though a documentary about a contest in Texas where the person who kept their hand on a truck the longest would win it sounded like something that I would be attracted to. The fact that Trey Anastasio, frontman for Phish, was collaborating on the score and songs certainly helped put the show on my radar, though while I enjoy Phish I certainly am a casual fan at best. I’ve seen them three times live, which in the Phish universe of fandom barely registers. Even my friends who are die-hard Phish fans don’t really recognize me as a fan, since they never invite me to go to shows with them. So on the surface, there is no clear explanation for why I would have taken more than a passing interest in this musical. It seems like something that I would file away in my mind and then vaguely remember down the road.

That’s not what happened, however; for whatever reason, I’ve been quietly stalking this musical since its inception, monitoring all news about its progress. Surprisingly, no one that I mentioned this project to had any idea what I was talking about, including Phish fans (Ha! Who’s the fan now?). I kept tabs on it from its first live reading in 2011 through its debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in California; I even investigated whether I could incorporate seeing the show with a trip to visit my friends in San Francisco (no go – too far away). When the show finally opened on Broadway in February of 2013, I moved it to the top of my wish list for shows to see (right behind The Book of Mormon). Unfortunately, while I was still working out arrangements with my friend Amanda, who is my Broadway buddy, to go with me, the show closed after only 28 previews and 28 regular performances. After that failed run, I assumed that the dream was dead. Hands on a Hardbody would be a footnote of Broadway history, one of many shows that couldn’t find an audience and that would essentially be forgotten. I just assumed that it must not have been very good.

Fast forward to 2014. We are lucky here in Albany to have free theater every summer through the Park Playhouse in Washington Park. They usually do two productions a summer – a regular show and then one that is more for children – and their shows are always on my radar as something to do in the summer. The quality and selection of productions varies year to year; I’ve only actually made it to a performance once over the years (Gypsy) but I was very impressed with it. In the past, their selections have been pretty pedestrian and have mostly been shows that I either have very little interest in (Spamalot) or are shows that I’ve already seen. I’ve always been glad to know that Park Playhouse is around to give people an opportunity to be exposed to the theater for free, but there has been very little overlap in what I’ve been interested in seeing and what they’ve performed.

Until this year.

When the announcement was made for this summer’s production, you could have knocked me over with a feather. They were doing Hands on a Hardbody! I was thrilled that I would have the opportunity to finally see it, but the selection was a little perplexing to me. Why was a theater company that normally does standards or bona fide Broadway hits embarking on the production of a show that lasted barely a month on Broadway? It seemed like a very confusing choice. But I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth; I’d been willing to pay Broadway prices to see this show and now I was going to be able to see it for free without having to leave town. I have to assume that the summer production wasn’t made specifically to make me happy in particular, but if it was they did a hell of a job. A rainy summer put a damper – literally – on the production’s month long season, but I finally found a clear night to see the show right before it closed.

After all the (self-created) hype and interest, I’m relieved to report that I really enjoyed the musical. I really have no idea why it struggled to find an audience – it was a funny show that also had some heart and the songs and score were fantastic. Some of the dialogue was a little ridiculous, but I find that to be the case with plenty of Broadway quality shows. The story was creative and different; while it wasn’t necessarily the quality of Book of Mormon, it was very entertaining and should have done better than it did during its original run. Perhaps these regional productions will drum up some interest and five years from now we’ll see a revival.

The show follows ten contestants who are participating in a promotion by a local car dealership – they must stand with one hand on a truck until there is only one person left. That person will win the tucks. Violate any of the rules – removing your hand, taking off the gloves that must be worn, leaning or resting on the truck – and you are eliminated. The story focuses not only on the actual competition, but on the back story of the individuals that are participating. With hard economic times upon them, many of them view the truck as their ticket to opportunity – they can either use the truck to get out of their Texas town or to find more gainful employment or they can sell the truck for a small financial windfall. The documentary on which the musical is based is from 1997, but the economic circumstances of the participants are even more relatable today, thanks to our recent economic downturn.

Among the contestants are a religious woman, a recently returned Marine, a self-identified redneck woman (cheered on by her husband), and a returning champ who won the contest two years ago and who serves as the de facto villain of the show. Each character is given a moment to shine over the course of the musical and has either a solo or duet where their story and personality are highlighted. Though the contestants are mostly tethered to the truck for the duration of the show, this isn’t a stagnant performance; there are momentary breaks from reality that allow the performers to move freely across the stage. The titular hardbody is also attached to sliders so that it can move with the performers – they are able to dance and reorient themselves without having to let go. It’s kind of cool to watch as they spin the truck round and round during the performance.

The strength of the musical is definitely the musical numbers; the songs stick in your head and quickly establish this motley crew of contestants. The songs cover many different genres to represent the personalities of the individuals; there is some gospel, blues, rock and country infused into the songs, so there really is something for everyone. The variety is impressive – Anastasio and Amanda Green did an excellent job of blending all those inspirations into a cohesive musical that doesn’t feel like a haphazard attempt to hit as many musical genres as possible. My only real complaint about the show, other than some hokey dialogue, is that it is on the long side. The performance that I saw ran about 2.5 hours and while some of that may due to the pacing by this particular cast, there is still a lot of material crammed into this show for them to cover even at a more frenetic pace. If they could trim just a little of the filler, they would have a leaner and meaner show that would be far more efficient storytelling.

Despite the lulls in some of the non-musical moments, Hands on a Hardbody was still an engrossing musical. The stakes are seemingly pretty low, but I definitely had people that I was rooting to win this fictional contest. I wasn’t the only one – when a particular contestant was eliminated, there was an audible gasp from the crowd. If you make people react that way, you’ve done something right.

I was curious enough about the original documentary after seeing the performance that I decided to plunk down some cash for a digital download. I wanted to know what they had created out of whole cloth for the musical and what they kept from the source material. I’d be waiting for the documentary to eventually come out on Netflix prior to this point, since I am loathe to pay $6 for a film I’ll see only once, but my inquisitiveness got the better of me so I had to break down and spend the cash. Surprisingly, the musical is extremely close to what happened in real life. While some things were added to ramp up the drama, the majority of the musical mirrors the documentary. Lines uttered by the real life contestants are used as song lyrics and while there are more contestants in the documentary, it is pretty clear that the characters in the play are direct copies of the Texan combatants. The documentary itself was fun as well, though because the musical paralleled it so closely it felt a little repetitive.

I don’t know what the future will hold for Hands on a Hardbody, but I am glad that I finally got to see it performed. Though it has a limited Broadway run, there was a soundtrack released and I’ll probably download it to be able to listen to the songs I liked the most. I hope that the show has a second life performed in regional and community theaters and I’m glad that the Park Playhouse took a chance on it. Personally, I think that they should have marketed the Phish connection harder to attract more fans; if you have a fan base that is willing to travel the country to follow your band, they would probably be willing to make the trip to NYC. I also wonder if people found the name confusing; when I hear the word hardbody, the first thing that I think of isn’t a truck (perhaps because I am not a Texan). Even if Hands on a Hardbody doesn’t become terribly successful, Anastasio and Green should be proud of their finished product. They created an impressive musical that is both entertaining and endearing.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – No A/C Edition

So as I mentioned yesterday, I’m spending the week in training for my job. It somehow feels longer than a day at work, which may have something to do with the fact that we are trapped in a second floor classroom that doesn’t have any air conditioning. You read that right – 9 hours a day the second week of July in a room that doesn’t have a/c. The room doesn’t even have screens on the windows, which at least means some semblance of a breeze is generated when people swat flies away. It’s hard to concentrate on the finer points of project management when you are ready to pass out. I may just have to roll a cooler into class with me tomorrow.

While I consider options for beating the heat, enjoy your bi-weekly roundup of pop culture stories.

  • Jenny McCarthy is a possible new host on The View. There are multiple hosting seats available – Elizabeth Hasselbeck is headed to Fox News, Joy Behar is also leaving and Barbara Walters is retiring.
  • Ha! An Arrested Development fan put George Michal’s internal clock to the test:

Well played Arrested Development. Well played.

  • Dane Cook is going out on a stand-up tour, his first in four years. I saw him on his last tour; here’s to hoping he improved over the hiatus.
  • Chris Pratt is getting seriously ripped for his role in Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • I’m still sad that no one would take me to the Phish concerts last weekend; they did a first time ever cover of “Energy” by The Apples in Stereo:

 

  • Jay-Z’s domination continues – not only did he singlehandedly get the RIAA to change how they count sales, but the MTV movie awards are getting a special statue for their Brooklyn debut. I have no proof that Jay-Z had anything to do with the Moonman remodel; let’s just call it a hunch.
  • Speaking of Mr. Carter, turns out we share a cereal preference:

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  • Jerry Seinfeld did a Q&A with Jimmy Fallon’s audience:

 

  • I’ve always wanted to go to Universal theme park for Halloween, but now that they are doing a Cabin in the Woods themed maze I REALLY want to go. As you may recall, I was a fan of that movie.
  • Chucky’s back – a new Child’s Play film will come out this fall:

 

  • A new poster for Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake has been released:

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I’m still not totally on board with this project.

Firth deserves better. This Mr. Darcy is CREEEPPPPPYYYY

Firth deserves better. This Mr. Darcy is CREEEPPPPPYYYY

 

  • This slowed down version of the Seinfeld theme is kind of terrifying:

 

  • Pearl Jam announced a North American tour this fall. In other news, I will be traveling to Buffalo, Worchester, Brooklyn, Philly, Hartford or Baltimore this fall on “unrelated” business.
  • James Gandolfini’s legendary generosity continues after his passing; the actor left $500,000 to a friend with an autistic son.
  • David Beckham’s career recreated in LEGOs is impressive:

 

  • The Flintstones and Hong Kong Phooey may get revamps. My childhood continues to get ravaged.
  • Tumblr of the week: Icorns (celebrities as corn on the cob)
  • Anchorman gets the 8 bit treatment:

 

  • Spongebob makes everything better:

 

  • Turns out that I’m not the only person that noticed the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks show “curated” by Usher featured…..well, a lot of Usher.
  • These Game of Thrones mini LEGO figures would look nice to my Walter White and Omar Little figure on my desk. It is really amazing that they give me any responsibility at work – between the bobbleheads, Yankee paraphernalia and other toys, my office doesn’t exactly scream professionalism.
  • I can’t decide if this maid of honor toast is fantastic or terrible. One the positive side, it is original and memorable. Negatives are that it takes attention away from the bride and it is hard to understand. You decide.

 

  • Businessweek (of all places) has an infographic comparing how much money rappers say they have vs. how much money they actually have. Pitbull – your pants might be on fire.
  • Set your DVRs everyone – SyFy debutes Sharknado tomorrow night ( and who doesn’t love a tornado comprised of sharks?).
  •  Is it plagiarism if you steal from yourself? Aaron Sorkin likes to recycle his own dialogue:

 

  • Tomorrow (Thursday) is 7/11 day – head to your local franchise of the convenience store for a free Slurpee.
  • I’m bummed that there is a rift between the band members of The Civil Wars. I like them.
  • Jessica Simpson gave birth to a baby boy, her second child in 14 months. If a celebrity gives birth and no one cares, did it really happen?

And, as always, we end with the supercuts and mashups

  • All the coffee and pie scenes from Twin Peaks

 

  • Johnny Depp does enjoy making weird faces:

 

  • Kevin James sure does fall down a lot:

 

  • A supercut of movie trailers that use the cliché “one man” reference:

 

When does the “in a world” supercut come out?

  • You thought I was out of “Get Lucky” mashups? You would be wrong:

 

  • Actually you would be doubly wrong:

 

  • A Game of Thrones/Gotye mashup (includes major spoilers if you haven’t watched season one yet)

 

  • I totally love this Kanye West/Depeche Mode mashup:

 

  • This Ginuwine/Kill Paris/Daft Punk mashup ain’t bad either:

 

  • This is outstanding – a mashup of The Lumineers “Ho Hey” and Will Ferrell’s Harry Caray impersonation:

 

  • And finally, this may be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen: a “Blurred Lines”/The Cosby Show mashup:

 

 

Stay cool, my friends.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – I’m Back, Baby edition

I couldn’t think of any better way to bring the blog back from its brief hiatus than with everyone’s favorite post, the bi-weekly pop culture roundup. Pop culture stops for no man (or woman) and stories kept rolling out even while I was away, so this post is as much for me as it is for you. So while we all play catch up, enjoy this barrage of links to stories that you might have missed:

  • You people are failing me when it comes to Happy Endings. Shame on you.
  • Kids retell Star Wars in their own words:

 

  • This might be a reason to have a baby – White Stripes songs have been turned into an album of lullabies (just kidding, Mom. Probably).
  • The History Channel’s The Bible miniseries is already out on DVD.

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  • Dang – I missed out on the auction for Tupac’s fedora from the “California Love” video. I look excellent in hats.
  • Listen to a new song from John Legend and Rick Ross.
  • Crackle is now streaming episodes of The Shield for free. Definitely a show to check out if you haven’t seen it. It is where I first discovered the awesomeness that is Walton Goggins.
  • Jimmy Fallon and Jay Leno addressed The Tonight Show succession rumors:

Jimmy, my friend, some unsolicited advice: stop palling around with Leno. He cannot be trusted.

  • The Hollywood Reporter says that Fallon has signed a deal to take over The Tonight Show. Seth Meyers is the frontrunner to take over Fallon’s 12:30 time slot.
  • Steve Buscemi will direct a live Vampire Weekend webcast.
  • Not sure how I feel about this: Amy Poehler is rumored to be dating fellow comedian (and occasional Parks and Recreation guest star) Nick Kroll. Love them both, but I’m still not over her split with Will Arnett.
  • This seems like a waste of perfectly good Easter candy:

 

  • Glee star Cory Monteith has checked into rehab and will miss some episodes of season 4, currently in production.
  • Springsteen has brought someone on stage to sing “Waiting on a Sunny Day” at every show I have been to, but I’ve never seen him do this before:

Lucky kid – and this only makes me love the Boss more.

  • The collected wisdom of Duck Dynasty’s Uncle Si. I don’t watch the show – should I check it out?
  • OK – this kind of freaked me out – celebrities that are unbelievably the same age. The Taylor Swift/Adele thing always kills me.
  • There is adorable and then there is Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Jeopardy! in 1997:

 

  • Cher’s mom is getting a Lifetime movie. It has got to be better than Liz & Dick and the recent Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story (based on a murder one town over from where I live).
  • Based on the success of the Veronica Mars kickstarter, Funny or Die has some 90s TV shows that they think should get the movie treatment.
  • Queens of the Stone Age debuted a new song at Lollapalooza Brazil, the band’s first in six years.
  • I have discovered yet another website that specialized in pop culture inspired art. I really think this print would tie my living room together.
  • Tublr of the week: Mean Mad Men (Mad Men/Mean Girls mashup). Totally fetch.

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  • Thanks to a new website, I can listen to many of the Phish concerts that I attended for free.
  • The creator of the 90s Nickelodeon show Clarissa Explains It All has brought the character back as an adult in a new book.
  • Adios TV Guide Network.
  • Watch the cast of The Big Bang Theory do a number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sheldon Cooper in drag is unsettling.
  • Bronson Pinchot hijacks a weather cast on a local news cast. I have no words:

 

  • Actor Richard Griffiths, who played Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon (among other things) passed away last week.
  • Are Walking Dead and Toy Story the same?
  • The CW has released the first images of their new The Vampire Diaries spin-off pilot, The Originals.
  • Ron Howard will appear as himself on an upcoming episode of Arrested Development. He is also the show’s narrator.
  • I enjoy this collection of GIFs of Daryl Dixon from The Walking Dead sneaking up on people. He is one stealth dude.

And now, some supercuts and mashups:

  • People running in movies:

 

  • I’m glad I didn’t watch this before I flew Southwest last week.
  • All of Woody Allen’s stammers:

 

  • Bill & Ted & Lincoln’s Excellent Adventure:

 

  • And finally, spliced together like this, Fraggle Rock was pretty deep (and a little depressing):