AAs I sat in my living room on June 9 watching the Tony Awards show, I felt a unique connection to some in the audience.Hands

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Hands on the Red Carpet

Published 4:10pm Monday, August 12, 2013

I recognized lyricist Amanda Green (Bring It On: The Musical) and Trey Anastasio (Phish) who were nominated for Best Original Score, and Keith Carradine, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical. In fact, I had met them on March 21, opening night of “Hands on a Hardbody,” the musical for which they were nominated.

A year ago, I did not have the Tony Awards on my calendar, but since my son-in-law became one of the producers of this new musical, I was thrilled to accept the invitation to attend. “Hands on a Hardbody” began its life as a 1997 documentary about 10 down-on-their-luck Texans who participated in a contest to win a truck, a Nissan Hardbody. They had to keep at least one hand on the truck at all times except for scheduled breaks. The winner was the last man or woman standing — four days later in this case.

Opening night started with a cocktail party in the restaurant next to the theatre with the investors, producers, and, of course, the writers. Then we were off to the red carpet. I sat with the director of the La Jolla Playhouse, where the show had been in development the previous year. Special guests were some of the actual contestants from Texas who had been in the documentary. It was a big surprise when they were invited to stand on stage beside the actor who had played them. Then we went on to another venue for the after party. We listened to a country band, had Texas barbeque — best I’ve ever had — and congratulated everyone involved as we waited for the reviews.

Picture a truck center stage in the hot Texas “sun” with 10 gloved contestants doing everything they can to win this truck because they know it will change their lives. For one young UPS employee, it will get her out of Longview. Benny won it last time, and wants to win it again because his ex drove off with the first one. We get to know these contestants and their stories by hearing them sing, sometimes in a dreamlike sequence which allows them to leave the truck and move center stage. Other times, they dance with the truck as it spins and becomes the rhythm for the gospel number. The songs had us laughing, “If you can’t hunt with the big dogs, stay on the porch with the puppies” and crying as a young Marine sang “Stronger” as he finally confesses he “doesn’t want to live any longer.”

The road from the page to the stage is usually long and expensive. It was during its run in La Jolla that my son-in-law, Bruce Long, had the opportunity to join the producing team of “Hands on a Hardbody.” You may wonder exactly what a producer does. Among other things, he raises money to bring shows to Broadway. Unfortunately, sometimes the journey comes to an end sooner than expected. Ticket sales were not what was needed to sustain the show and it closed on April 14. However, with three Tony Nominations and 9 Drama Desk nominations it was immediately picked up for licensing and is already on the schedule of a theatre in St Louis for its 2014 season. Perhaps it will open in Minneapolis someday, or even Fergus Falls. Not everyone can make the trip to New York City to see a show. Let’s hope it comes to us.

I have asked myself, was this a once-in-a-lifetime experience? I think not. My son-in-law is already looking at other projects, including one written by my daughter, Michelle Long. “By Grace — The Musical” is about the events surrounding the wedding of Grace Kelly. You can hear some of the music and listen to her talk about the show at www.bygracethemusical.com. In fact, this is just one of the musicals and plays she has written. Michelle is Director of Education at Charlotte Children’s Theatre.

I certainly believe I will be at a New York City opening night again. Maybe this time I will be even closer to the writer. If you watched the Tony’s, you heard the underlying theme from almost all the recipients: one time they too were watching the awards show and dreaming of the opportunity to be on Broadway. Quoting the opening number of “Hands on a Hardbody:”

“If you want something, keep your hands on it! Hold it close to you, don’t let go one bit!”

Article & photos by Jeanene Hoppe


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