Trey Anastasio, Amanda Green & Doug Wright: Hands On: Their New Musical Stars 10 Determined Texans and a Big Shiny Pickup Truck

By Goodwin, Jeremy D. | American Theatre, May-June 2012 | Go to article overview

Trey Anastasio, Amanda Green & Doug Wright: Hands On: Their New Musical Stars 10 Determined Texans and a Big Shiny Pickup Truck


Goodwin, Jeremy D., American Theatre


VER HEARD THE ONE ABOUT THE PULITZER-winning dramatist, the sassy Broadway lyricist and the rock star who walk into a room and write a musical set at a Texas truck dealership? Strange to say, but that scenario applied aptly in March when American Theatre sat down with Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wift, Quills), Amanda Green (Bring It On) and Trev Anastasio (frontman and principal composer for Phish, an enduringly successful rock hand with some of the most loyal fans in the business) to talk about their new musical Hands on a hardbody, which runs at California's La Jolla Playhouse through June 17.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Wright (whose Wife netted him a best-play Tony to go along with that Pulitzer) and Green have each worked on musicals before, but Phish's Anastasio had never written for the stage. Hardbody's director Neil Pepe and the show's "dramaticstager" Benjamin Millepied (who created choreography for the film Black Swan) are also highly accomplished in their realms, but newcomers to musical theatre. Wright calls the group a "wonderfully particular" combination of talents.

The story is adapted from the 1997 documentary film by S. R. Bindler, detailing a contest wherein a colorful group of folks vie to win a brand new hardbody pickup truck by seeing who can stand and hold one hand against it the longest. (It gives nothing away to say the ordeal lasted a grueling 77 hours.) The competition was an annual event in Longview, a town two hours from the Dallas suburb where Wright grew up.

Sitting in a conference room at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City (where Pepe is artistic director), the three collaborators display a lively, flowing rapport. Alter a patient development period for the La Jolla commissioned show, including a series of workshops, the team is only two weeks from heading west to begin rehearsals for the premiere. They describe their distinctly collaborative writing process and the challenge of staging a musical in which the principal characters stay rooted in place--and speculate that this quirky story just may have something to say about the current state of the American dream.

DOUG WRIGHT: Amanda and I were looking for a project. I just happened to be at a video store one evening and I saw this film set in Texas. I was feeling a bit homesick at the time, so I took it home and was astonished by it. It brought 'texas screaming back to me.

The competition has all these metaphorical implications. It a group of disparate people who've come together in search of ostensibly the same thing, which is this new truck. For each of them it symbolizes something different. So it felt like a kind of microcosm of the nation, as it were, and the competition itself felt like rich fodder to write about the whole of the human experience condensed into a single, semi-ridiculous, ultimately moving event.

JEREMY GOODWIN: hi strict resume terms. Tres seems, the odd man out in this trio.

TREY ANASTASIO: But I grew up around a lot of musical theatre. My grandmother was a single mother and she raised ray mom in the '40s and '50s, and they went to even' show, and it became sort of a family tradition. So when I was growing up in New Jersey, my mom used to take my sister and me to shows almost weekly. She was editor at Sesame Street Magazine and knew a lot of creative New York people. As I grew up, I used to hear around the dinner table that the ultimate dream of creativity is to be on a team working on a Broadway show. So to be asked to be part of this team was such a thrill.

As a matter of fact, I used to get made fun of in the early years of Phish--people would say some of the music sounded kind of "Broadway." I grew up sitting around my record player listening to West Side Story and South Pacific and Hair.

WRIGHT: When I first met Trey, he gave one of the most insightful treatises on the overture to Gypsy that I think I'd ever heard! …

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