REVIEW: ETC’s “Hardbody” Says Hold On To Your Dreams

"Hold onto your dreams" is literally what this musical is about.

By Liz Eichler

Hands on a Hardbody, the latest production at Ensemble Theater Cincinnati, is an uplifting exploration of the human spirit amidst adversity, wrapped in a country/rock musical format. Based on the 1997 documentary of the real life event, the musical follows the lives of ten contestants in Longview, Texas, as they vie for a red Nissan “hardbody” pickup truck. Their stories unfold under the relentless Texas sun over four days.

Director and Actors for Hands on a Hardbody

The production, directed by D. Lynn Meyers, moves quickly, gliding from one person to the next, as easily as the truck turns on the stage. In her pre-show announcement Meyers relates the show was produced 10 years ago at ETC. (Audience members around me said some of the same actors were involved, too.)

The show boasts an exceptional cast whose performances breathe life into the characters with depth and authenticity. Jared Joplin’s rendition of Benny Perkins particularly stands out, as he fully commits to his character, as unlikable as that character may be. Denise Devlin’s amazing vocals have been fine tuned by years of national tours, and Aleah Vassell raises the roof with her gospel inspired “Joy of the Lord.” Andrew Maloney, Deondra Kamau Means, Patrick Earl Phillips, Brooke Steele and Franco Valerga are also contestants and provide great energy and strong vocals.

Jim Hopkins as Don is supporting his wife, contestant Janis aka Deb G. Girdler, because they are a team, which they explain “If She Don’t Sleep.” Kate Wilford is Virginia, supporting her husband contestant JD, aka Phil Fiorini. “Alone with Me” is their poignant song.  

Michael G. Bath, Jamie Cordes, and Annie Fitzpatrick are the owners and emcee for the event. To add to the stakes, the Nissan dealership hasn’t been hitting their quota, and they hope this contest turns that around. Fitzpatrick’s Texas Two Step in the opening of Act 2 is absolutely charming. 

Cast of Hands on a Hardbody
Phil Fiorini and Jared Joplin starting an alliance in “Hands on a Hardbody” at ETC.

Creative Team

Chaz Wolcott’s choreography deserves commendation for seamlessly integrating the physical presence of a real truck on stage. Despite all having to have their hand on the truck, there is constant movement, especially as the characters work to get closer to each other–or further away. They share stories of poverty, as well as their dreams, and we as the audience can’t help but cheer them on. 

Scenic & Lighting Designer Brian C. Mehring has created a great playing space, with a shiny black floor, which makes the red truck pop. Steve Goers is the Music Director, responsible for all of the great harmonies. Cat Schmeal-Swope is responsible for digging up the 1995 clothing and hair styles appropriate to each character. Yes, that means mom jeans, visors, and crew socks.

Cast of Hands on a Hardbody at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. 


The production succeeds in delivering a powerful commentary on class dynamics, redemption, love, and loss. “Hold onto your dreams” is literally what this musical is about. The characters and their dreams will resonate with audiences long after the curtain falls.

Hands on a Hardbody is a great production, and a perfect introduction to the caliber of shows you can expect from Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati. 

Tickets to Hands on a Hardbody

Don’t miss the opportunity to witness this captivating production, running until June 30th at Ensemble Theater Cincinnati. Tickets are available through the box office or ONLINE.

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