Original Broadway production of Hands on A Hard Body (2013)

By Kate Barry

Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

For this installment, I want to call attention to the many opportunities for streaming musicals. The Sondheim Birthday Salute, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Shows Must Go On series, and the Disney Sing a Long have been entertaining and worthwhile chances to see performances in ways not otherwise possible. Although social distance and quarantine have canceled and postponed every live show imaginable, the opportunity to encounter your favorite show tune on a phone or laptop screen has been the next best thing. 

Nunsense: I have a theory that at any point in time, someplace in the United States, this play is being produced. It caters to community theaters with a diverse cast and a script full of laughs. I could rattle off at least five local companies who have in recent memory performed this political musical about Catholic nuns. It brings in the crowds and the songs about nuns cleaning out refrigerators to hide evidence are unique.

Damn Yankees: I am embarrassed to say I had never seen or heard this vintage musical. The original show helped bring Bob Fosse to the big time as a choreographer and the music is full of hits. The song “Whatever Lola Wants” alone is iconic. What I did not realize as the score unfolded before me was how baseball was merely a façade for sexual hijinks and social commentary. 

Hands on a Hard Body: This play is very curious. There are lots of hope and dreams within its simple premise: small-town folk place their hands on a truck and the last one with their hands on wins. The show is reminiscent of A Chorus Line and Working as personal stories, monologues, and songs are shared by each individual contestant. I would love to see this one performed by a local company one day, and it could work in a small space like The Bard’s Town.

Light in the Piazza: This lovely, dreamy show is a perfect cure for quarantine blues. Set in Italy, the story of a mother who must learn to let her daughter fall in love is the stuff that romantic dreams are made of. The piece teeters on opera with “Say it Somehow” but grounds itself within musical theater constraints with “Passeggiata” and “Love to Me.”

The Color Purple: I literally cannot lavish enough praise on this show. The musical version of the popular Toni Morrison novel and 1985 movie adaptation is flawless. As Celie triumphs over physical and emotional abuse in search of her sister, this story of perseverance stands on its own, towering over other shows. The musical styles within the score are rich, diverse, and uplifting. This show has enjoyed several stagings in Louisville but the recent national tour, due to appear at Kentucky Performing Arts this month, was unfortunately canceled due to the pandemic.

Li’l Abner: To be honest, when I started listening to this obscure little musical, I found myself cringing throughout. But after a little bit of research of the plot, based on a popular daily comic strip, and a few Youtube viewings of scenes from the movie, I started to embrace it. With scientists, big money politicians, and simple-minded hillbillies, the show is a broad social and political satire. Plus a song titled “Put ‘em Back” sung by a group of ladies in response to their beefcake husbands was without a doubt a highlight. 

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder: I have been curious about this show since it won the Tony for Best Musical in 2014. Set in King Edward’s England, the music is fun and the gags are non stop. The score is a seamless satire of the British class system with operatic tones woven within its Broadway flair. And as I listened to “Why Are All the D’Ysquith’s Dying” I tried to imagine how a Louisville company could pull off the demands of casting the D’Ysquith family, and I immediately grinned from ear to ear. 

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas: I could not ask for a more joyful score than this one. Having never seen it on stage or the movie starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, I was quickly enthralled. The cast recording overflows with some of the best Pop-Country of the era: “Lil Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place,” “Doatsy Mae” and “Bus from Amarillo”, while “Girl, You’re A Woman” is a simple melody with an empowering serenade.

Honorable Mentions:

Little Mary Sunshine: Although cartoonish and harmless, I found the character tropes to be problematic and the music forgettable.
Falsettos: The endless ups and downs were hard to follow at times yet “I Never Wanted to Love You” was lovely.
Catch Me If You Can: This one packs a lot of brassy, Rat Pack flash as an FBI agent attempts to catch a young con artist. And it works on many levels. 

Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!