‘Hardbody,’ and The Baseball Project
I am heading out to my sister’s wedding tomorrow, and I wanted to write about the cool things I did last weekend before I left: attend the production of “Hands on a Hardbody” at the Park Playhouse in Albany and The Baseball Project concert at Storm King Art Center in New Windsor.
First, “Hands on a Hardbody.” I am not much of a musical theater person. But this musical is based on a cult documentary set in Texas, and my boyfriend, who grew up outside of Dallas, really wanted to go. He saw the documentary years ago and loved it, and decided to invite Texas friends who now live in Albany and the Berkshires to the show. He also made a snack called Frito pie to eat during the performance, and wore a cowboy hat. His enthusiasm ensured that I would enjoy myself even if the musical was terrible.
But it’s not terrible! It’s actually really good. It has an odd premise: Each year, an auto dealership in Longmont, Texas, hosts an endurance competition in which contestants compete for a brand-new pickup truck. Whoever keeps a hand on the truck the longest wins. Leaning on the truck is forbidden, as is removing both hands simultaneously. There is a five-minute break every hour, and a 15-minute break every six hours.
The characters are mostly down-on-their-luck Texans grappling with the effects of the recession and hoping for something better. As the musical progresses, you learn about the people standing around the truck: the ex-soldier, the older man, the young woman who works at UPS, the cocky former champion, the religious woman who believes God will bestow the truck upon her.
“Hands on a Hardbody” is funny, emotional and surprisingly religious, with a nuanced and complex take on faith and redemption. The music, written by Trey Anastasio of Phish and songwriter Amanda Green, is terrific — a stirring mix of country, rock, blues and gospel. But it’s the cast that makes this show such a good time. Every character has a memorable moment, and every actor shines when the spotlight is focused on them.
Curious to learn more about the cinematic roots of “Hands on a Hardbody,” I acquired a VHS tape of the film, which is not available on Netflix or at my local library. While the musical definitely takes some liberties with the source material, I was struck by the similarities between the film and the musical. While the film opens with 30-plus contestants, the musical opens with 10, all of whom are based on real people from the documentary. Plot developments I assumed were added to the musical to make it more exciting actually occur in the film, such as the cheating scandal and the early exit of a man who eats Snickers to keep his energy up. The climatic song’s inspirational refrain of “If you want something, keep your hands on it,” was actually uttered by the winning contestant.
“Hands on a Hardbody” runs through Saturday. It’s free, and totally worthwhile.
I’m a big fan of the band The Baseball Project, an indie-rock supergroup that has released three albums full of songs about baseball. They are performing at Helsinki Hudson on Wednesday, but I cannot attend that show, which is why I was happy to discover that they were playing at Storm King last Sunday.
Storm King is a 500-acre sculpture park that is beautifully landscaped and features an interesting and eclectic mix of sculptures by internationally-known artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Alexander Calder and Maya Lin. I had been there once before and loved it, and was happy to return.
The Baseball Project performed outside, on a small stage. Comprised of Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate and drummer Linda Pitmon, the band has the friendly vibe of a bunch of good friends hanging out, talking about baseball and playing music.
They performed songs about Alex Rodriguez and his fall from grace, the pleasures of reading baseball box scores in the newspaper and former pitcher Jack McDowell, who is best known for giving 55,000 fans at Yankee Stadium the finger while getting booed off the field. I wore my Red Sox baseball cap for the occasion, and while I was disappointed the band didn’t perform “Ted F------ Williams” or “Buckner’s Bolero,” it was still a pretty awesome time.
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