THE BLOG
03/28/2013 10:03 am ET Updated May 28, 2013

Stage Door: Hands on a Hardbody, Totem

It may sound like an improbable topic for a Broadway musical, but Hands on a Hardbody, now at the Brooks Atkinson, takes as its premise, a group of people hoping to win a $22,000 Ford truck. The catch -- they can't take their hands off the vehicle. Does the show shift into high gear, theme-wise?

It's a tribute to the little guy, such as the injured oil rigger (Keith Carradine), the emotionally scarred veteran, the Hispanic student and the religious woman who believes Jesus wants her to win. All are Texans struggling to make ends meet. Each cast member, led by Hunter Foster, gets a moment to shine. And while the cast is solid, and the Trey Anastasio-Amanda Green country-western score occasionally tuneful, the show never drives off the lot.

Doug Wright's script is a tale of working-class blues that addresses key issues -- recession, poor health insurance, frightened families -- which is why you hear lyrics like "Kmart," "Abilene" and "pre-existing conditions." Sadly, the dramatic stakes are just too low.

True, it's an odd title for a musical, but it's based on a 1997 documentary about a crazy contest staged by a Nissan dealer in Texas. In that regard, the musical is akin to the movie They Shoot Horses, Don't They? about a dance marathon during the Depression. Both profiled wearied, down-on-their-luck Americans willing to subject themselves to torturous conditions to win either cash (Horses) or a truck.

Each of the 10 Hardbody contestants is also reminiscent of A Chorus Line, devoid of memorable songs and dancing. Despite a strong cast effort, and a few touching moments, this show should be towed away.

On a more whimsical note, Cirque du Soleil's Totem has toured the world since its debut. It is making a return performance to New York, taking as a subtle theme, the evolution of species, from the amphibian state to the upright man on a mobile phone.

Playing under the big top at Citi Field, Totem is a more intimate Cirque rendition, though no less eye-popping. Featuring 14 acrobatic acts, with beautiful video imagery augmenting particular vignettes, the show is both amusing and artful. Simple objects, such as an egg or a plastic bag, are transformed magically.

The gymnastic interpretive dances are showcased with a romantic trapeze by Guihem Cauchois and Sarah Tessier and an amazing roller-skate act by Massimiliano Medini and Denise Garcia-Sorta. Both prove the beauty of body language. Similarly, the Rings Trio, extraordinary foot juggling (The Crystal Ladies), a quad of unicyclists and a Russian bar set illustrate the split-second timing and astounding virtuosity that is Cirque's trademark.

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