Don't let the title fool you. The hardbody in the new musical Hands on a Hardbody doesn't belong to one of the gym-fit dancers from Newsies, but refers to a shiny new Nissan pickup truck. And the hands belong to ten strangers competing to see who can keep one hand on that truck the longest. The contestant with the most nerve — and tenacity — wins the marathon and drives away with the American Dream.
Writing the show itself is a dream come true for composer Trey Anastasio, lead singer for the much beloved alt-rock jam band Phish. "To say that it's an honor to write a Broadway musical is an understatement," Anastasio says. "This is an art form that predates what I do… it has a depth of tradition, a tapestry of tradition."
For a man whose improvisatory band toured for over 20 years and never played the same set list twice — and whose music spans across genres from jazz to reggae to folk — Broadway represents a return to Anastasio's musical roots. Growing up in Princeton, NJ, his mother regularly brought him to New York to see shows: "The soundtrack of my life was original cast albums," he says. "Hearing West Side Story for the first time changed my life."
Indeed, Anastasio's senior project in college was to write a musical. The result, Gamehendge, is an oddball fantasy. (Think of a Dungeons & Dragons-type game set in Stonehenge. Get it?) The mere mention of the title causes Anastasio's face to turn as red as his hair, but Gamehendge lived on as a cult favorite at Phish concerts.
Anastasio's buoyant enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of musical theatre has charmed Hardbody's team of collaborators, especially Doug Wright, Pulitzer Prize winner for I Am My Own Wife and book writer for musicals like Grey Gardens and The Little Mermaid.
"Trey is a true marvel in rehearsal," Wright says. "One minute he's citing the influence of an obscure Louisiana blues band and in the next he's [discussing] old footage of John Raitt singing in Carousel."
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