Ask any serious musical theater fan about the favorite things in his or her collection of cast recordings, and he or she will invariably say something like "And then there's this one (fill in the blank of a long-gone tuner). I know
it wasn't a hit on Broadway, but I just love listening to the album."
Chances are that a new generation of music theater lovers will be saying this about the new recording of Hands of Hardbody, which played 28 performances at Broadway's Brooks Atkinson Theatre last spring. Despite its all-too-brief run, the show picked up a trio of Tony Award nominations, including one for its score by Trey Anastasio (known for his work with the band Phish) and Amanda Green (whose work is also heard on such Ghostlight recordings as Bring It Onand High Fidelity), and ten Drama Desk nominations, including one for Outstanding Musical.
There are any number of reasons why recordings of shows like this thrive in fans' minds. One is an album's ability to tell the story of the musical (particularly important for anyone who didn't have a chance to see it). In the case of Hardbody, which centers on a group of Texans as they stand in the summer heat for days on end in the hopes of winning a new truck, you get a sense of the action not just from the songs themselves, but also from the carefully chosen bits of dialogue (and one extended stretch of a character's uncontrollable laughter) that are included on the album.
Supplementing the aural cues on the 21 tracks is a full-color booklet. It's got the synopsis and lyrics along with a plethora of pictures which bring the show visually to life, making it an excellent companion for listeners. There's also includes an essay by arts journalist Terry Teachout (of The Wall Street Journal), that contextualizes the musical.
But just being able to appreciate "what" the musical is, isn't enough to make a recording a critical component of a collection. There's the score itself. And with "Handbody," Anastasio and Green provide an array of contemporary sounds that are fitted into a musical theater world. You'll find that there's a hefty dose of toe-tapping country western music and country-rock in the show, as well as gospel ("Joy of the Lord"), honky tonk sounds that might bring to mind Elvis Presley ("Burn That Bridge"), rock in the mode of groups like Journey ("Stronger"), and pulsating Latin rhythms ("Born in Laredo").
Finally, a cast recording that hits that special place in a collector's ears and hearts has to have a cast that seems to propel itself into the listeners home, and with "Hardbody," it's rough not to gravitate toward each member of the 15-person ensemble, each of whom gets a chance to shine.
Of course, tastes vary and there might be ongoing debates about favorite sections of the show. Some folks might choose Keith Carradine and Mary Gordon Murray, who play one of the married couples on hand for the contest and deliver some of its most bittersweet material; others might gravitate toward the grittier performance that Hunter Foster delivers as one of the most embittered participants in the event; and some may find that they return to the soaring vocals from Keala Settle, who turned in a breakout performance in the production, picking up a Theatre World Award for her work.
Regardless of which tracks one prefers, it's worth taking this new Ghostlight release out for a spin in your preferred listening device or system. You very well might find it taking a spot as a gem in your musical theater collection.
Listen to Jon Rua singing "Born In Laredo" from the new Cast Recording of HANDS ON A HARDBODY:
Watch video from the recording session for HANDS ON A HARDBODY:
***The Original Cast Recording of HANDS ON A HARDBODY is available now on iTunes and on CD on our website.