PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Doug Wright, Fleshing Out Real People in Hands On a Hardbody

By Kenneth Jones
20 Mar 2013

Hunter Foster in Hands on a Hardbody.
Photo by Kevin Berne

There has been criticism of these endurance competitions in recent years — some have said that it puts contests at risk, mentally and physically, all in the name of promoting a car dealership. One contestant from another competition committed suicide after losing. Did the idea of exploitation — which contestants freely signed up for, of course — inform your work?
DW: Very much so. In fact, that provides much of the fodder for our story. When you see the show, you'll hopefully notice how we tackle each of those points in our narrative. Frivolous as the contest may sound, it was unbelievably grueling; there's no question that for the contestants it was both exciting and traumatic.

What did you learn in t La Jolla Playhouse during the world premiere in 2012, and what work did you set out to do before Broadway?
DW: La Jolla was so very generous to us, and we learned so much. Following our run there, we dramatically restructured our whole first act. [Choreographer] Sergio Trujillo joined our creative team. Our set designer Christine Jones re-thought the visual world of the show in a profound, really gratifying way. To test-fly changes in the book and in the score, we did another three-week workshop after completing the West Coast run. So the show has changed substantially. The only thing that's remained constant? Our glorious cast.

What have you learned in previews on Broadway?
DW: Plenty. In one nail-biting week, we cut two songs, and in a delirious spasm of inspiration, Amanda, Trey and I huddled in a dressing room upstairs at the Brooks Atkinson, and I watched in amazement as they wrote a new one on the fly; it's now one of my favorite numbers in the show. I've tweaked lines endlessly. Our cast has been very gracious and accommodated all of the new material with utter professionalism.

The people of the film offer choice phrases and observations, like sagacious Benny, who says, "It's a human drama thing, it's not just a competition, it's not just a contest, it's human drama, it's human life happening." There's a line about "tryers." Is this gold for a dramatist? Did you lift lines, wholesale, from the film?
DW: Yes, many lines come straight from the film. Amanda's been particularly adept at integrating some of Benny's bon mots into lyrics. "Hunt with the Big Dogs" is our first-act closer, and it's a phrase borne of the man himself.