One Nissan truck, 10 hopeful folks.
Those with long memories will remember the old contests on car lots that pitted a group of people with dollar signs in their eyes against each other. Their one task? Keep one hand on a truck longer than anyone else. The prize? That very vehicle.
That’s the plot of “Hands on a Hardbody,” a musical at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. After a preview show Thursday, it opens Friday and runs through April 14.
But the story goes deeper than it might appear. It’s about winning the truck in order to sell it to pay medical bills or because a catastrophic event has forced a contestant’s financial hand.
“It’s the notion of people really struggling in our culture right now,” said director Nathan Halvorson, FAC’s associate director of performing arts. “It’s 10 very different humans on a truck expressing a strong American need for something. I keep making the joke of calling it ‘A Chorus Line’ for our American culture today, where it’s not about being a famous dancer on Broadway, but it’s about feeding my children or paying this bill, which will get me a leg up in this society that feels like it’s pushing me down.”
The 2012 musical is based on the 1997 documentary of the same name, which came to the attention of lyricist Amanda Green. She thought it would make a great musical and hooked up with Trey Anastasio, best known as a founding member of the popular and longtime jam band Phish. What resulted was a country, pop and rock soundtrack with a Southern roots feel, perfect for a show set in Texas. And fans of Phish might hear the sound of their favorite band peek through.
“It’s really compelling, particularly for an audience that, Rodgers and Hammerstein doesn’t speak to them,” Halvorson said. “It’s a very forward, modern sound.”
Musical theater fans might wonder how one would choreograph a show with 10 cast members “stuck” to a truck. It’s been a challenge, but the script incorporates 15-minute bathroom breaks for contestants as well as dream sequences when actors can release the truck for a short time.
“It’s geometry. My entire world is charts right now — who is singing what when, and how to make sure they’re visible when it happens,” Halvorson said. “The truck is castered, and the truck can move. The truck is a major character in the play. Every piece of choreography has had to keep the truck in mind. I’ve spent the last six weeks dancing around with one hand on something.”
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM