Refuge Theatre Project’s “Hands on Hardbody,” playing at Preston Bradley Center in Chicago, is an ensemble musical metaphor for life.
The premise of the show is based upon a real life event of a radio contest where participants enter a contest to win a truck. … Last person with their hands staying on the truck wins.
The Spartan set (a welded skeleton of a pick-up truck on small wheels with a center pivot) is the perfect background for the rich amount of vocal talent in this show.
With a small ensemble cast of 15, the production is a well-balanced blend of top-notch performers and characterization methods. They are the showpiece of the story and the reason to keep watching and listening.
Be sure to set aside two-and-a-half hours for this tale/ballad of hopes and dreams and love/loss. The myriad metaphorical themes throughout the show are brought to life through each unique character. Each one has a story to tell as to why they are there at the contest and what motivation or hope makes them want to win. Some of the storylines get a bit blurred and choppy but not for lack of effort and talent by this cast or the direction. The show order of scenes would benefit from a rewrite or reorganization of some of the reveals of each character. It would be a bit more palatable to the audience if the first act would tip some of the hands of each player.
The music is rich and worth the trip to the city. Preston Hall and its aging glory is an interesting venue and ones leaves this show with perpetual hope for all the storefront theater companies in Chicago. This show is a massive undertaking despite the minimalistic set and costumes. This is mainly due to the musical direction of Jon Schneidman. He brings out the best in each and every actor and the nuances of their performances is obviously well-coached. The mix of up tempo, ballad, country toe-tapping and modern styles of pieces drive the show forward (if you will allow the pun.) Standouts include “Joy of the Lord,” “It’s a Fix” and “Born in Laredo.”
Direction by Christopher Pazdernik and music direction by Schneidman brought this piece to life at Mason Hall in the Preston Bradley Center at 941 W. Lawrence Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are $30 each and available at refugetheatre.com.
• Mary Beth Euker is a co founder and director of Cricket Theatre Company in Lake Zurich. She also directs for Lake Zurich Middle School North