Ten contestants try to win a Nissan truck by keeping their hands on it the longest in the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Hands on a Hardbody.”
Photo by Gary Nieter, TIMES-UNION
Ten contestants try to win a Nissan truck by keeping their hands on it the longest in the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Hands on a Hardbody.” Photo by Gary Nieter, TIMES-UNION
What would you do to win a new truck?

For 10 contestants in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Hands On a Hardbody,” they keep their hands on the Nissan hardbody pickup truck for several days until the last remaining contestant wins it.

The musical is based on S.R. Bindler’s documentary film of the same title. The music is by Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, with lyrics also by Green.

It’s at the Wagon Wheel through Aug. 24. Tickets can be purchased through the box office; by calling 574-267-8041 or 866-823-2618; or online at www.wagonwheelcenter.org.

Wagon Wheel Artistic Director Scott Michaels said “Hands On a Hardbody” is “based around a radio contest where people have to put their hand on the truck, and the last one that has their hand on the truck wins that truck. It takes place over four days, so the journey is long.”

It takes place in Texas, so the temperature reaches over 100 degrees. The contestants are out in the elements, whether that’s heat or rain.

“Each one of the characters has a unique story to tell, why they want the truck, why they need the truck,” Michaels said.

“In Texas, trucks are a livelihood for most people. It’s how they farm, it’s how they get their goods around. If one of them works in an antique store and they need that truck to transport the furniture to and from the store – so it’s more of a way of life than it is for here in the Midwest. A truck to us is just a monetary thing – oh, I want a truck – but for them it is literally a way for them to change their lives because they can get work that they may not have gotten if they had just a regular car,” he said.

Each of the 10 contestants have wants and desires for getting the truck. There’s a young Mexican kid who needs the truck to sell it and pay his tuition at veterinarian school. A woman wants it because it will change her life because she will be able to open an antique store. A man needs it just to get a job.

Michaels said, “So it’s great. There’s all age arcs, from like 18-year-old kids all the way up to 45- to 55-year-old people in the show and they all have different desires as to why they want or need the truck.”

Because the contestants “really need” to win the truck, he said that ups the stakes for them. Most of them stay in the contest for four days.

As for the music, Michaels said it’s nothing like the jam-band style of Phish. “It’s very country, very folk, gospel. A lot of gospel kind of in the show. But a very Texas kind of score. ... It’s great music.”

The show was produced on Broadway around 2010, so Michaels said it’s a relatively new show set in modern times. He said the documentary is “fascinating” to see.

Wagon Wheel veteran actress Jennifer Dow, who plays Cindy Barnes in “Hands On a Hardbody,” said, “Some of the characters are plucked from that documentary. Some are kind of amalgamations. There were actually, in the documentary, 24 contestants so we really only get to know the final 10, even though in our real world it only starts at 10.”

Michaels said the musical highlights the most important and best stories from the contest.

There is a truck on the stage, but don’t let its realism fool you. It’s a fake.

“It’s a complete prop,” Michaels said.

“It came in four pieces,” Dow said.

Michaels said it came in a road case. It’s real metal in some spots, with wood in other places like the framing. The underneath of the truck is completely hollow.

“The wheels aren’t touching the ground,” Dow said, which allows the truck to be rotated on the stage.

“It’s a lot of fun. They’re having a great time with the truck. It’s been great,” Michaels said.

He said it’s not a mainstream show, and Dow said not many produce it, which may be why not everyone has heard of “Hands On a Hardbody” before.

“A lot of community theaters and colleges do this show,” Michaels said.

Dow said, “Regionally, it’s very successful because everyone can relate to the story, but it’s not produced mostly because people don’t know the title.”

Michaels said some of the reasons they wanted to do the musical was because it’s new, fun and audiences will love the country-based music.

“There’s some great stories to be told within the play,” he said.

Dow said it’s almost like a murder mystery because audiences will have to wait until the end to find out who wins the truck.

“That’s what makes the show fun so I’m kind of glad our audience won’t know it because they get to live that every night as people get eliminated, and there’s surprises how they get eliminated, in some ways shocking sometimes,” Michaels said.

“You get so invested in the characters that when they do end up dropping off the truck, you’re like, ‘Noooooo!’ or on the verge of tears. Like toward the end you get so invested rooting for certain individuals and then they lose and you’re like, ‘I was hoping they would win,’” Dow said.