Neil Pepe Will Direct Workshop of Hands on a Hardbody Musical for La Jolla Playhouse

By Kenneth Jones
31 Jan 2011

Neil Pepe
Neil Pepe
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Hands on a Hardbody, a new musical commissioned by La Jolla Playhouse, will get a three-week Manhattan workshop by the California company.

Neil Pepe (Broadway's Speed the Plow, A Life in the Theatre) will direct the musical based on a documentary about an endurance/sleep deprivation competition in which the last person standing with their hand on a Nissan hardbody truck wins the vehicle.

As previously reported, Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) penned the libretto, Amanda Green (High Fidelity) wrote the lyrics, and Green and Trey Anastasio wrote the music. Matt Gallagher is the music director.

According to a La Jolla casting/audition notice, "Hands On a Hardbody is a musical based on the documentary film of the same name, about a truck competition in rural East Texas. In the contest, hardscrabble contestants are invited to a local car dealership, to place their hands on a new Nissan truck. The contestant who can stand the longest without removing his or her hand from the vehicle gets to drive it off the lot. What initially seems like a frivolous, even kitschy stunt becomes a true test of wills."



The performers "should have authentic, skilled country/folk voices and genuine acting chops. It is a strong ensemble piece."

The varied characters include a Texas disc jockey who has a garage band; a manager at a car dealership; a returning champ who spins tall tales; an aging ex-oil rigger; a Louisiana ladies' man; an Iraq war vet; a young, unemployed oddball; a long-haul trucker, a poor man with a loving wife and eight kids; a psychology professor who is an expert on sleep deprivation; a soft-spoken Latino kid who aspires to college; a female marketing director at the local Nissan dealership; a tomboy who can belt to a D; a middle-aged woman of faith; and a former cheerleader.

Wright, a Texas native, was intrigued by the Texas-set tale of hope, desperation and endurance. La Jolla Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley previously called the film "a trenchant slice of Americana."

Wright won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for I Am My Own Wife and was a Tony Award nominee for Grey Gardens. He penned the libretto of Broadway's The Little Mermaid. Green is the Jonathan Larson Award-winning lyricist whose credits include the Broadway musical High Fidelity.

No timeline has been announced for a production of Hands on a Hardbody. The workshop runs March 21-April 9 in Manhattan.