Ocoee Theatre Guild to perform Hands on a Hardbody

Ocoee Theatre Guild to perform Hands on a Hardbody

“This is a real asset we have in our community,” cast member Tricia Pennington said of the production. “Doing a Broadway show at this local level is really good for Cleveland.”  Courtesy of Tori Thiessen, Life Section Editor

“This is a real asset we have in our community,” cast member Tricia Pennington said of the production. “Doing a Broadway show at this local level is really good for Cleveland.”

Courtesy of Tori Thiessen, Life Section Editor

Broadway is coming to Cleveland this fall.

The Ocoee Theatre Guild, a Cleveland nonprofit corporation, is preparing to begin performances of the Broadway musical "Hands on a Hardbody." The cast said they are excited to bring a show of this scale to such a small city.

“This is a real asset we have in our community,” cast member Tricia Pennington said. “Doing a Broadway show at this local level is really good for Cleveland.”

Since its 2013 creation, the Ocoee Theatre Guild has remedied Cleveland’s lack of theater outlets. President and co-founder Candy Tapper explained that the group filled the city’s need for a place where locals could express themselves through performing arts.

The production company recruits dedicated members who work hard to put on good shows. Lee alumna and director of the musical Kate Bosch described the cast as talented and motivated, even pointing out one actress who studies her script to the point of falling asleep with it in her hands each night.

Bosch explained that the Lee University community has also played a substantial part in cultivating creative expression and theatrical arts in Cleveland. Tapper agreed, explaining that the cast contains many students from the university. She said the appeal of the Guild to students may be more freedom in production choices.

“We have a little more leeway,” Tapper said. “I don’t want to give the idea that we’re way out there. We can just try some new things.” 

The Ocoee Theatre Guild is able to consider and perform shows with content and themes that Lee, as a Christian institution, might avoid performing. Still, Tapper said the group does not perform tasteless or unnecessarily vulgar shows.

"Hands on a Hardbody" is a prime example.

The musical production is set during the economic recessions of the 1990s and is based on true events surrounding a Texas car dealership. The dealership hosted a contest requiring contestants to keep their hands on a truck for as long as possible. The stakes? The last one remaining wins the truck. However, the plot thickens as a cheating scandal within the contest throws a wrench into this simple objective.

According to those involved in the production, the musical is not made great because of the contest itself but because of the backstories, struggles and problems of the characters within it.

“The story highlights each of the character’s backgrounds and has a lot of character development,” said Lee student Rachel Liske, who plays contest participant and waitress Heather Stovall. “They all want the same thing, and finding out why is really interesting.”

Tricia Pennington, who plays public relations representative Cindy Barnes, said the show’s character development is deepened by the fact that the characters are based on real people and share their real names. 

The relatable qualities of the characters and their struggles adds to the relevance of the show, as it covers topics such as race, immigration, religion, divorce, self-worth and poverty. Tapper pointed to these personal narratives as a point of connection with the audience, a thought echoed by Pennington as well.

“These are things that make you think. There’s a lot going on out there in life. It makes you think about people’s backgrounds,” Pennington said. “Everyone there was just trying to find a way to better their lives a little bit. I think we’re all after that.”

Pennington said the main theme of the musical is redemption, rounding out the feel-good nature of the show and appealing to audience members’ sympathy.

“In some ways, every character is redeemed,” Pennington said. “Each character gets closure. Everyone moved forward in some way in their lives.”

The performances will take place at The Museum Center at 5ive Points on Sept. 29, Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. There will also be matinee showings on Sept. 29 and Oct. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at http://ocoeetheatreguild.wixsite.com/ocoeetheatreguild and are discounted for students.

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