The big-voiced singing actress Keala Settle, who made her Broadway debut in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, is back on The Great White Way in the new musical Hands On a Hardbody, which is currently in previews at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre prior to an official opening March 21. Based on the film of the same name, the fact-based musical concerns ten hard-luck Texans who are engaged in an endurance contest to win a pickup truck. Among those sharing the stage with Settle are Keith Carradine (Tony Award nominee, The Will Rogers Follies), Allison Case (Hair), Hunter Foster (Tony Award nominee, Little Shop of Horrors), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Catch Me If You Can), David Larsen (American Idiot), Jacob Ming-Trent (Shrek The Musical), Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone (Tales of the City), Mary Gordon Murray (Into The Woods), Jim Newman (Curtains), Connie Ray (Next Fall), Jon Rua (In The Heights), Dale Soules (Hair), Scott Wakefield (Ring of Fire) and William Youmans (Wicked). Neil Pepe (Broadway's Speed-The-Plow) directs the production with staging by Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Next to Normal).
Earlier this week I had the chance to chat with Hawaiian native Settle, who spoke about Hardbody, which features a libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) and a score by lyricist and co-composer Amanda Green (Bring It On: The Musical) and co-composer Trey Anastasio (of the pop group Phish); that interview follows.
Question: Tell me, how did this role come about for you?
Keala Settle: I had just gotten into the city for Priscilla tech, and the very next day, in 2010, I was asked about it by my representation at the time. I saw the movie years ago so I knew what the movie was about, and I knew exactly what I was being called in for. I had no idea it was a musical, so I was really excited, actually, to do a play. So I tried to get in as fast as I could.
Question: What was the audition process like?
Settle: It was in the middle of tech. I had pin curls on and lashes and glitter lips, and it was in between tech and a preview, and I went in to audition — in full wig cap — and did my lines, and they asked for a song, and I said, "Why?" [Laughs.] They said, "Because it's a musical." And, I said, "Nobody told me that!" [Laughs.] And, my excitement dwindled because, you know, as an actor you always want to do plays, and you dream of being legit — whatever dream that is — and so I just said, "Okay, well what do you want to hear?" And, they asked for a gospel tune, and I think I sang "This Little Light of Mine" or something just off the fly. We went over to the piano and started rocking out.
Question: I've seen the TV commercial for the musical, and they show all the characters and underneath is a description of each character. Which character are you?
Settle: Norma Valverde.
Question: Do you know how you're described in the TV commercial? Have you seen it?
Settle: I have. I have. Norma's quote is "Holding Out For Salvation."
Question: Describe her a little bit to me.
Settle: The character or her, because I've never met her?
Question: The character.
Settle: Obviously, it's one and the same, but she's an extremely devout Christian woman, who doesn't make a move without clearing it through God first. Yeah, she is the picture of that, and sometimes I'm sure people would think, in this day and age, it would be to her fault, but somehow, when she did this contest, it kind of brought people together on the truck because they realized they were kind of holding on for the same reason.
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