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Who will drive home with the American Dream?

Stand here, simple as that. Stand here with your hand on the truck. Last one to take his hand off wins it. Sounds absurd, don't it? Some kind of sideshow. Maybe. Maybe not.
—Benny Perkins' opening monologue
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Hands on a Hardbody is a musical adaptation of the 1997 documentary of the same name, which premiered in La Jolla, California in 2012 and had a brief stint on Broadway in 2013. With a book by Doug Wright and music and lyrics by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio of Phish, the show depicts the efforts of ten Texans trying to win a truck that could change their lives forever.


This musical features examples of:

  • A Cappella: Both versions of "Joy of the Lord" and the end of "God Answered My Prayers" are in this style.
  • The Ace: Benny is a longtime veteran of the Hands on a Hardbody contest, and he's won it at least once before.
  • A Death in the Limelight: Considering he falls off right after it's done, "My Problem Right There" can be considered this for Ronald.
  • The Alleged Car: Greg mostly wants to win the truck so he can stop driving his mom's old beat-up VW Bug.
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  • Armor-Piercing Question / And Then What?: Benny gets one from Ronald after the latter comes back to the dealership.
    Ronald: You win, what happens? You gonna park it in your yard. You gonna stare at it through a dirty window, all by yourself in an empty house. Oh, you a big man, all right. You a "champion."
  • Berserk Button: Whatever you do, don't talk bad about Benny's son.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Ronald is the first person to fall off the truck.
  • Bookends: The show begins and ends with Benny addressing the audience directly.
  • Bottle Episode: A bottle musical. All the action takes place in one location, with almost all the main characters tethered to the truck.
  • BSoD Song: Two of them in pretty quick succession.
    • "I'm Gone (Reprise)" for Kelli
    • "God Answered My Prayers" for Benny
  • The Bus Came Back: Ronald and Chris, the only contestants to fall off in Act One, return to the dealership in Act Two, albeit for very different reasons.
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  • Crisis of Faith: Norma goes through one when her music player dies near the end of the competition. It takes Ronald and Chris to snap her out of it.
  • Cultured Badass: Benny quotes The Art of War, knows a hell of a lot about Tae Kwon Do, and compares his offer to teach J.D. how to win the contest to a relationship between a mountain climber and his Sherpa. Most of this goes straight over J.D.'s head.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Benny's son, a Marine, killed himself the night before he was to come home. This drove a wedge between Benny and his wife, leading to their separation.
  • Dark Reprise: Four of them, almost all in a row.
    • "Alone With Me (Reprise)" has J.D. singing to himself about how much he regrets driving Virginia away.
    • "It's a Fix (Reprise)" has Heather exposing Mike's plan to rig the contest for her.
    • "I'm Gone (Reprise)" has Kelli, almost completely catatonic, walking off the truck and towards oncoming traffic, leading Greg to give up his spot to save her.
    • "Joy of the Lord (Reprise)" almost averts this, with Ronald and Chris managing to restore Norma's faith, but then Norma starts clapping...
  • Determinator: With the exception of Ronald, everybody in the contest lasts at least one day holding on to the truck. J.D.'s winning run sets a new world record: 91 hours, 16 minutes, and 27 seconds, just a bit shy of four days.
  • Diegetic Switch: Initially, "Joy of the Lord" is the song Norma is listening to on her music player.
  • Driven to Suicide: Benny's son.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even Benny is shaken after Greg runs off to go after Kelli, something he talked him into doing, and that he coerced the other contestants into doing with him.
    Benny: Cruel game, people. Damn cruel game.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The track titled "Uncontrollable Laughter" on the cast album is...just that. The minute or so of Norma's laughter that leads into "Joy of the Lord."
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: About midway through Act Two, a doctor comes on Frank's radio show to talk about the effects of sleep deprivation, mentioning in particular hallucinations and psychosis. Not too long after, Jesus and Kelli fall victim to these.
  • Foreshadowing:
    Benny: One thing you don't want? That's goin' numb. Once you go numb, you better start worrying.
    J.D.: You got a strategy for that?
    Benny: No strategy. You go numb, you're goin' down.
  • Friend or Idol Decision: For a brief moment, Greg agonizes over staying in the contest or chasing after Kelli when she wanders towards traffic.
  • Griefer: Some of Benny's tactics smack of this, reaching their lowest point when he guilt-trips Greg into getting off the truck, and makes the others complicit in doing so.
  • Gospel Revival Number: "Joy of the Lord."
  • Hallucinations: Jesus starts hallucinating his dog on the third day of the contest and tries to play catch with her, which gets his hand off the truck.
  • Happily Married: Janis and Don Curtis, displayed in "If She Don't Sleep" and contrasted with J.D. and Virginia Drew.
  • Honest John's Dealership: There are elements of this in the way Mike runs Floyd King Nissan, especially considering he tries to rig the contest for Heather.
  • "I Am" Song: "Born in Laredo" for Jesus.
  • The Illegal: Played with. Cindy's insinuation that Jesus is an illegal alien sparks "Born in Laredo."
  • Implied Death Threat: Vet student Jesus makes one towards Cindy's dog in Act Two after she suggests he may be cheating.
  • I'm Not Here to Make Friends: Said almost word-for-word by Benny in "Hunt With the Big Dogs."
  • Insult to Rocks: After Janis calls Benny a dog when he makes a racist comment about Jesus, Jesus tells her to spare the dog the comparison.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "Hands on a Hardbody," which in-universe is a song Frank and Mike wrote to hype up the audience at the competition.
  • "I Want" Song: "If I Had This Truck" for the ensemble at large, "I'm Gone" for Greg and Kelli.
  • Love Nostalgia Song: Both versions of "Alone With Me."
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "Human Drama Kind of Thing."
  • Mood Whiplash: The tradition of Frank playing the dealership jingle after each elimination can make for awkward laughs in some cases, like when after Chris goes. Ditto Heather and Benny.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: The music in "Joy of the Lord" continues to play until Chris, who up to this point hasn't had one word of spoken dialogue, practically screams at them all to shut up.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Benny goes through this hard towards the end of "God Answered My Prayers."
  • My Greatest Failure: Chris has been lurking on the premises of Floyd King since he fell off because he promised his son he'd win the contest, and he can't bring himself to face his family after losing.
  • Nice Guy: Greg, Jesus, and Kelli are basically the only people in the contest who aren't unpleasant or aggressive in some way, and even they have some moments in "Hunt With the Big Dogs."
  • Not So Above It All: Janis is bewildered by Norma's outburst in "Joy of the Lord," but by the end she's singing along. Chris, even though he doesn't sing, gets this too: he's honking the horn during the breakdown.
  • Only Sane Man: Poor Cindy just wants to do her job and run the contest.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Benny.
  • Pep-Talk Song: The first half of "Joy of the Lord (Reprise)" is this, with Chris and Ronald trying to get Norma back to normal.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Benny has flashes of this, referring to Jesus as "Tex-Mex" and confessing to praying for God to send his Mexican neighbors away in "God Answered My Prayers." Heather (and by extension Mike, given his motivations) is a bit more flagrant with this, to wit:
    Heather: And now you're here pretendin' you love hicks and spooks and spics!
  • Pop-Cultured Badass: Benny compares himself to Rambo in "Human Drama Kind of Thing" and quotes Highlander in "Hunt With the Big Dogs."
  • Pop-Star Composer
  • Real Women Love Jesus: Norma.
  • Really Gets Around: Ronald has three "lady friends" that he refers to by name in the show, and is implied to have many more.
    Ronald: I got too much love! That's my problem right there!
  • Redemption Equals Elimination: Benny finally finds the strength to forgive himself and change his ways, at the cost of his shot at winning.
    Benny: O Lord, I kneel before You here
    On the edge of this abyss.
    I beg You to release me
    From my foolish righteousness,
    And my poison prejudice,
    And this... awful emptiness.
    God answered my prayers...
    He said, "Yes."
    (Released of his demons, Benny lets go of the truck.)
  • Religion Rant Song: "God Answered My Prayers" plays out a little like this in the first half.
  • Running Gag: Frank plays the jingle for Floyd King Nissan (Pick up and go!) after most contestants fall off the truck; Benny even sings it to himself after Jesus is eliminated, since Frank is sleeping at the time.
  • Sanity Slippage: Heather gets this hard once the side effects of Mike's uppers kick in.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: A ghostly, a cappella reprise of “I’m Gone” for Kelli.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Janis and Don storm off the lot after "It's a Fix."
  • Serendipitous Symphony: Midway through "Joy of the Lord," the contestants start pounding out a beat on the truck, using the doors, side panels, even the car horn.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Chris.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Things get dark fast once Jesus is eliminated.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Benny Perkins just about embodies this trope.
    Benny: Even when you all drop off - when each and every one of you is ancient history - I’ll stay on. By myself! Until I beat the world’s record!
  • Somewhere Song: "I'm Gone" has elements of this.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Benny's parts in "Human Drama Kind of Thing" and "Keep Your Hands On It" both start with this.
  • The Stoic: Chris, until "Joy of the Lord," that is.
  • Survivor Guilt: A lot of "Stronger" is Chris unpacking his struggles with this.
    Chris: How come I'm the one got to survive when I don't feel like living any longer?
  • Tempting Fate: Two clear examples in Act One.
    • After Benny says the person who might beat him would have to be "somebody, say, fresh outta the Marine Corps," Chris unzips his hoodie to reveal a USMC logo on his shirt.
    • Twice, Ronald says that if it starts to rain, he's gone no matter what. About midway through "My Problem Right There," there's a loud clap of thunder.
  • There Can Be Only One: Quoted to the letter by Benny in "Hunt With the Big Dogs."
  • Title Track: The Act Two opener.
  • True Companions: Benny and J.D.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: J.D. is the oldest person in the contest, and he's playing hurt, but he manages to outlast everyone and win the truck.
  • Villain Song: Heather and Mike get "Burn That Bridge," Benny has "Hunt With the Big Dogs."
  • Villainous Breakdown: Benny has a little bit of this in "Hunt With the Big Dogs," and a lot of this in "God Answered My Prayers."
  • War Is Hell: The central part of Chris's character and, indirectly, a very important part of Benny's.
  • Wham Line: Much has been made of Benny's Marine son. Benny nearly got off the truck to fight Ronald when he mocks that he wasn't there. So what happened to him?
    Benny: His third deployment. My son started havin' nightmares, cryin' out in his sleep, scarin' the hell outta his bunk mates. Uncle Sam gave him an honorable discharge. Got his old room ready; wrote "Welcome Home" in shoe polish on my front window. (A beat) Night before his transfer, he...he took his M-9. Turned it on hisself.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The second half of "Keep Your Hands On It" functions like this:
    • Chris is making steps towards recovery. He managed to hold a part-time job for a bit, and he's recommitted to his family.
    • Jesus is still hard at work on his degree.
    • Ronald got a job with Peaches' father repairing highway lights. Only problem is, he's afraid of heights.
    • Janis and Don returned to their home and family, not to mention their 20-ton AC unit.
    • Greg got Kelli home safely that night. She got him a job at UPS, and they're saving up for a vacation in Las Vegas and LA.
    • Norma picked up extra hours at her shift, and her family's getting by alright.
    • Floyd King Nissan went bust, but Cindy and Mike rebounded pretty quickly at Floyd King Toyota.
    • Heather re-entered the contest the next year and won, this time fair and square.
    • And as for Benny, he's still trying to figure it out, but he's emerged from his time in the contest a changed man.
  • Worthy Opponent: Benny shares moments of this with Chris and Ronald after he falls off.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Ronald is unfaithful to his lady friends, and is heavily implied to have come back to the dealership because he's fallen for Norma.
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