Joy of the Lord! Tony Nominee Keala Settle Conquered Her Fears in Hands on a Hardbody

By Michael Gioia
07 May 2013

Settle in Hands on a Hardbody.
Photo by Kevin Berne
In Hands on a Hardbody, Settle's character, devout Christian Norma Valverde, maintained her focus in the high-endurance competition for a brand-new Nissan pickup truck with the help of God…and a handheld CD player. In the midst of the competition, Norma used what she had — God and music — for that extra push and delivered the arresting musical number "Joy of the Lord."

"This show, by default, forced me to step out," she said. "I mean, I had to laugh out of nowhere every show [before 'Joy of the Lord'], and I had to pull that from somewhere — anywhere. I pulled from every single person on that truck, and it became a realization for me that I can move through life with that [encouragement] — not just on the truck. It changed who I am."

What changed Settle, exactly? "Well, not to be cheeky or cheesy or anything," she confessed, "but the show… It actually altered who I am as a person in a very, very positive way. I've always been afraid of who I am and not knowing what I can do… There's always doubt and fear. If you're a human being, everybody's got it. If anybody says they're not afraid of themselves, they're lying!"

Following closing night of Hands on a Hardbody, Settle took the stage at (le) Poisson Rouge in Broadway Sings Stevie Wonder to perform "Knocks Me Off My Feet" alongside Hardbody co-star Jay Armstrong Johnson. Johnson and Settle, the show's closing act, brought down the house, but, yet again, Settle's nerves struck.

"It was overwhelming for me," claimed Settle, "but it was actually great closure because I was still singing with someone in the company, and it was the first time that I had ever sung in New York City as just me. I'd never done it, and I was petrified to do it because I have fears… We all have fears! Don't lie! We all have fears. But I pulled through, and it stuck. It's something that I know that I want to do and love to do."

Settle, beaming from her Tony nomination, could not help but boast about her Hardbody family, explaining, "We know that nothing like this will ever happen to any of us, individually, again. And, that's okay because now we have each other…as a family."

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)