“Hands on a Hardbody” will roll on stage at the Tyler Civic Theater Center every weekend until October 23.
The show, based on real events from SR Bindler’s 1997 documentary of the same name, opens Thursday.
Hands on a Hardbody was an annual contest that ran from 1992 to 2005 at the Nissan dealership in Longview. The contest was all about endurance, as the dealership offered a Nissan Hardbody truck to the contestant who could keep their hands on the vehicle the longest.
Deputy director Luane Chancellor said the show looks at the relationships contestants have with their spouse or with their parents.
“It highlights each of them and their relationships and how they need healing. And through this competition, most of them find healing,” she said. “We convert and we find God. It’s just very uplifting. It has its sad parts, of course, but things work out. It’s a happy game.
The Chancellor said the production had an ensemble cast and each had their own solo which was highlighted.
“With some of them, it’s a duet with their husbands or their wives or a new friend that they made,” she said.
Music director Kim Bond said the show’s songs are written based on actual feedback from actual contestants.
“The music itself is written by Tony award-winning composer Trey Anastasio. They interviewed the people who actually made the show for a documentary,” Bond said. “So the songs are written based on actual feedback from actual participants. There are slogans in the songs that were used by the participants themselves.
Bond said the musical style includes country, blues and gospel.
“I have the best vocals blending into the show to create a super awesome texture,” she said. “So the music is easy to listen to and fun to listen to, but it’s also very helpful in telling their story.”
Wesley Johnstone plays Mike, owner of the parking lot where the competition takes place.
“He’s got it all organized and that’s his baby,” Johnstone said. “He’s sort of the antagonist of the show and he tries to rig the game.”
Johnstone said this character is different from others he has played.
“It’s the first time I’ve played a role where I’m the bad guy,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for many, many years and I’ve never played the bad guy before. I’ve always been the good guy.
Kimberlee Martin-Ross is cast as Heather.
“Heather is one of the characters on this show that is based on one of the actual contestants but doesn’t actually follow that contestant’s actual story arc,” she said. “So I’m based on…a waitress who lost her car, couldn’t afford to pay for it, and the bank got it back. She rides her bike everywhere. She’s just trying to get by. As for the storyline of the series, her character arc is highly fictionalized with dramatic effect.
Martin-Ross said there have been concerns about the show.
“Something we’ve seen a bit on social media is maybe a little bit of hindsight about how the Hands on a Hardbody contest ended in 2005 and the tragedy associated with it. Obviously that’s not not something that’s addressed in this production because this show is based on the 1997 documentary,” she said. “I think there might be some fear in the audience that maybe… glorifies the competition in a way that disrespects the memory of that particular incident and I just don’t think that’s the case at all.”
Martin-Ross said the show is honest about how sleep deprivation and stress can affect someone.
“Each character handles it in their own way and breaks down in their own way,” she said.
The Chancellor said there were many life lessons on the show.
“It’s such an uplifting show and I think everyone can take something away from it. It’s about healing, growing and enriching relationships,” she said. “In this play, they learn to let go of their prejudices, their judgement. They learn to appreciate or not to take for granted those they love. These are just life lessons.