Monday 03/04/2013 by J_D_G


Photo courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse

After years of discussion and rumors, sporadic Phish performances of a couple of its songs, and a well-recieved debut run on the West Coast, the Hands on a Hardbody musical is now on its feet and in previews on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. So it seems a great time to share some reporting on the show. Before the show's initial run at the La Jolla Playhouse last spring, I sat down with collaborators Trey Anastasio, Doug Wright and Amanda Green in New York City to talk about the creative process behind the show, for an article in American Theatre that ran in the May 2012 issue. The discussion was in "roundtable" format, with me asking leading questions meant to get the three artists to run with it. Below is an excerpt, or you can click through to the full piece here.

As we count down to Hands on a Hardbody's official Opening Night on March 21 (for theatre neophytes who don't mind seeing the show before it reaches its final-final form, the difference really is just that preview tickets are a bit cheaper, and the press isn't allowed to review yet), I'll share some of the many unpublished excerpts from that inteview here on the blog, including some off-topic material like a Trey riff about the process behind creating Phish Food ice cream.

Excerpt from Trey Anastasio, Amanda Green & Doug Wright: Hands On

Originally published in American Theatre, May 2012

JEREMY GOODWIN: In strict résumé terms, Trey seems the odd man out in this trio.

TREY ANASTASIO: But I grew up around a lot of musical theatre. My grandmother was a single mother and she raised my mom in the ’40s and ’50s, and they went to every show, and it became sort of a family tradition. So when I was growing up in New Jersey, my mom used to take my sister and me to shows almost weekly. She was editor at Sesame Street Magazine and knew a lot of creative New York people. As I grew up, I used to hear around the dinner table that the ultimate dream of creativity is to be on a team working on a Broadway show. So to be asked to be part of this team was such a thrill.

As a matter of fact, I used to get made fun of in the early years of Phish—people would say some of the music sounded kind of “Broadway.” I grew up sitting around my record player listening to West Side Story and South Pacific and Hair.

DOUG WRIGHT: When I first met Trey, he gave one of the most thrilling and insightful treatises on the overture to Gypsy that I think I’d ever heard!

ANASTASIO: That was on perma- loop in my house, growing up. Musical theatre is the one place where you can find all the great elements of American music history. If you think about someone like Leonard Bernstein, and what he brought to his scores—it was popular music, but also serious composition, and development, and all those beautiful things.

AMANDA GREEN: Trey and I were working together [on songs for Phish] at the same time Doug and I were working on Hands on a Hardbody. Doug and I had looked for about a year for a composer partner, and there was nothing that was a fit. And one day Trey and I were writing and I had this lyric from the show with me, and, ha!—I just wanted to slide it over. As I got to know him and his enthusiasm for the musical world, I realized this might be the perfect fit.

This man just dives in headlong—there’s no testing the waters. We got into a room, I said, “Here’s the opening number. Boom—go!” And he just took off. This music came flying out of Trey.

ANASTASIO: I went through the process of making full-band demos of every song—sort of imitating Jesus Christ Superstar, which had an album before it became a show. There’s so much discovery I’m used to making in the studio or in the band practice room, so as a way of orchestrating, I decided to go through that extra, extra exercise. We went up to the Barn, my studio in Vermont, and had a bunch of very talented friends come in.

WRIGHT: For me, as the non-musical member of the triumvirate, it was so cool! Trey and Amanda were up there making these huge decisions about the music. They had the most amazing people, like guitarist Larry Campbell [who has played with Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Cindi Lauper and Emmylou Harris, to name a few]. I just watched these two pound through the score; I watched these amazing musicians improvise; and they were able to orchestrate the score in the most thrilling and dynamic way.

Full interview


, comment by ledzepmaster
ledzepmaster Amanda helping on a Phish song huh? Good news!
, comment by fluff_hen
fluff_hen ANASTASIO: It’s very liberating to be writing for characters and not from my own voice. It makes me feel safer to explore deeper emotions in ways that, if I have to sing the song, I might be a little shy about going there.

GREEN: Trey immediately had a sense of drama. I had a lyric for a character and he said, “We keep talking about the truck—I’m tired of the truck. Who is this guy?” He pushed me to write lyrics that revealed these characters.

ANASTASIO: The biggest thrill for me is: I like feeling like a beginner. It feels very alive, to be collaborating on something where the learning curve is so steep, and out of the comfort zone. It’s been an incredible gift.

Great interview, thanks :)
, comment by westbrook
westbrook @ledzepmaster said:
Amanda helping on a Phish song huh? Good news!
It was probably My Problem Right There or Burn that Bridge.
, comment by J_D_G
J_D_G Amanda Green is also the credited co-writer of "Summer of '89"...maybe one or two others?
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd Great piece, @J_D_G.
Thanks for sharing.

Any reason you did it now vs. last spring, when it was published? Did you want to save it for closer to the Broadway open?
, comment by J_D_G
J_D_G @johnnyd said:
Great piece, @J_D_G.
Thanks for sharing.

Any reason you did it now vs. last spring, when it was published? Did you want to save it for closer to the Broadway open?
Well I definitely circulated the link as widely as I knew how, back when the piece was originally published. I'm just not sure I even thought of putting it on the blog at the time, though. But since the show is on Broadway now it seemed like the story (and some previously unpublished excerpts) might have some more legs and be of interest.

Before the La Jolla version last year, someone asked me if/when I thought it would make it to Broadway, and I "expertly" said it would take years, minimum. This thing is really fast-tracked. They think they have a potential winner. La Jolla has commissioned other musicals with Broadway in mind and the reality of the business is that, more often then not, it doesn't ever get there.

I really like "My Problem Right There," so I'm looking forward to hearing/seeing the rest of the show.
, comment by HenryHolland
HenryHolland Nice interview, Trey looks great, healthy and happy. I couldn't get down to La Jolla when it was out here, I hope a recording is made of the show.

Of course, more than that, I hope there's a new Phish album before too long.
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