The public has spoken and Springfield Contemporary Theatre has listened. “Hands on a Hardbody,” its most requested musical, is coming to the SCT Backlot (2025 East Chestnut Expressway) June 17-July 3.
“It’s a show we did about six years ago,” director Rick Dines said. “We don’t usually repeat shows, but a lot of people have wanted us to do it again.”
There’s another great reason to stage “Hands on a Hardbody” a second time. Springfield Contemporary Theatre opened up its Backlot venue, with stadium-style seating, on its parking lot as it returned to live shows after COVID.
“The show’s set on a parking lot and we have this space outside on a parking lot, maybe we should do it again in this space,” Dines said. “It just kind of made sense.”
What’s it about?
Audiences will find themselves transported to the parking lot of Floyd King Nissan, where 10 contestants are competing to take home a brand new Hardbody pick-up truck. The contestants must keep at least one hand on a brand-new truck in order to win it. What initially seems like a frivolous, even kitschy, stunt becomes a true test of wills.
And, incredibly, the show is based on real-life events.
“It’s based on the documentary from 1997,” Dines said. “It takes place in Texas and it’s about a car dealership that’s struggling and they do these competitions, which were very popular in the mid-to-late 90s. … So it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you’d make a musical out of, but the documentary was so unique and the personalities of the people competing were so great. It was such an interesting grouping of people. It attracted these writers to make a stage version based on this documentary, because they really are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve encountered in musical theatre.”
Those writers are Doug Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winner, Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio. Green did the lyrics and teamed up with Anastasio, lead guitarist of the rock band Phish, to do the music.
“The score is gorgeous,” Dines said. “They’re songs that just get stuck in your psyche. It’s such a well-written show and we have such a great cast and a great group of singers performing it.”
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That cast of locals includes Doug Cannon, Gabby Catlin, Elizabeth Leigh Dary, S. Jeff Dary, David DePriest, Seth Dylan Hunt, Kevin Jolley, Derrick DeVone King, Johnnie Angelia King, Tara Scott Lewis, Austen McGranahan, Jonathan Parker, Ali Smith, Todd Smith and Jacob Winter. King choreographed the show for SCT. Five cast members are reprising their roles from SCT’s earlier production of “Hands on a Hardbody.”
Those cast members will take audiences through a journey that touches on many themes, like unemployment, racism, immigration and PTSD. Though the events in the documentary took place in the 1990s, the play, which contains adult language, wasn’t written until 2010.
“We were still in the middle of that 2008 recession so they brought it a little more up-to-date and reflected on how these people were struggling and how winning a truck would truly change their lives,” Dines said. “These are all people who are struggling in different ways for different reasons and they truly are holding out for the American dream any way they can. It’s the personal struggle and tenacity of these people that’s on display and that’s something audiences really connect to.”
The outdoor setting for the play does present unique challenges for Springfield Contemporary Theatre. For instance, they must set up and tear down daily and deal with the noise coming from nearby streets.
“Some of those challenges to (the cast) I find kind of fun,” Dines said. “They’re up against traffic noise and other things, but for this show it makes sense. It’s all environmental to the show itself.”
So is the weather, though Dines said it hasn’t been as hot as he thought. The shows don’t start until 8 p.m. The sun goes down, the heat breaks and it makes for some pleasant evenings in the Backlot.
“And because we’re completely open-air we get a really good breeze and it’s actually been very comfortable out there the last couple of nights, despite how hot it was during the day,” Dines said. “It’s been comfortable in the evening. I think people will be pleasantly surprised it’s not quite as stifling as they assume based on daytime temps.”
Want to go?
Tickets can be purchased by calling 417-831-8001 or visiting sgftheatre.org.
Adult tickets are $32, senior and student tickets are $29. Seats for opening night are just $27 each, while SCT offers $12 student rush tickets.
In the event of rain, SCT will accommodate patrons at any other performance they are able to attend. Those unable to attend another performance date will be offered a refund or credit for an upcoming performance.