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HANDS ON A HARDBODY presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati through Sept. 21. More information.
Based on the description, it would be easy to dismiss HANDS ON A HARDBODY as a gimmick show. What sets it apart is its book by Doug Wright. Two of his other works, I AM MY OWN WIFE and GREY GARDENS have been staged in recent years at ETC.
Director D. Lynn Meyers has found the heart in the story and cast an impressive group of character actors, with strong voices, to bring that story to life. Together, they have created so many little, emotionally-true moments that pull you in, and make you care about the people on stage. Even perfectly-loathsome Benny Perkins played by Charlie Clark.
Deb G. Girdler is a hoot as opinionated Janis Curtis. Phil Fiorini brings a nice, quiet dignity to JD Drew. He is paired with Kate Wilford as wife Virginia, who’s Act I exit is heartbreaking. Michael Gerard Carr and Brooke Steele make it easy to root for the budding romance of contestants Greg Wilhote and Killi Mangrum. Sara Mackie is perfectly fun as religious true-believer Norma Valverde.
Chris Alvaro, played by Dallas Padoven, has a strong voice and does well with his solo, “Stronger.” I do feel that the sunglasses worked against the actor, and the character comes off a bit too stoic. Since we can’t see Alvaro’s eyes for most of the show, the actor’s body language needs to be a bit bigger to give us an idea of what the character is thinking.
Props to Jim Hopkins for hopping into the role of Don Curtis with only 24 hours notice. Cast member Michael Flannery was called out of town for a family emergency, but will be returning to the role. Sending good vibes his way.
My favorite song in the show would have to be “Used to Be” performed by Fiorini and Clark with the Company. It is a melancholy lament about the changes to their small town, which immediately strikes an emotional cord with anyone of a certain age.
Patti James’ choreography is fun and inventive. Not an easy task when, for the most part, the cast must have one hand on a rotating truck. Favorite numbers include the backup trio of “Wonderettes” (Denise Devlin, Mackie & Steele) to Ronald McCowan’s (played by Geoffrey Warren Barnes II) “My Problem Right There,” Devlin and Michael Shawn Starks’s rockin’ duet “Burn That Bridge” and the Stomp-esque rendition of “Joy of the Lord.”
Opening night, I did struggle in most numbers to hear the lyrics over the music. Unfortunately Jordan De Leon’s heartfelt “Born in Laredo” was the most difficult to hear. If all lead singers’ mic could get a small bump in each number it might help.
Before the show, the audience question of the evening was “How did they get that truck into the theater?” Meyers’ provided the answer in her curtain speech, “Believe it or not, the truck fit through those double doors,” indicating the doors visible on audience-left wall.
Overall a fun and entertaining production and a great start to the 2014-2015 season. Tickets sales have been really strong. I recommend you get your tickets sooner rather than later.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
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