First-Time Tony Nominee: Keala Settle speeds into the hearts of audiences in ‘Hands on a Hardbody’

Keala Settle.

Keala Settle.

Laughter. That’s all it was. Tiny, seemingly endless giggles popping up one after another as if they were bubbles brimming on the top of a glass of soda.

As she tapped her feet, and occasionally wiped her brow, her giddy laughter began to grow. The audience was unsure of why this was happening because there was no explanation for her sudden outburst beforehand.

The actors that stood beside her began to chuckle as well.

Sometimes she would pause, take a breath, wipe a tear from her eye, but her joviality did not cease. It was random and it was adorable. The audience was in hysterics and even applauded her for it.

And then, that actress effortlessly launched into the show-stopping number that would earn her a Tony Award nomination.

Meet Keala Settle, a first-time (but definitely not “last-time”) Tony Award nominee. Settle has been recognized in the category of “Best Featured Actress in a Musical” this year. She portrayed the soulful and full of faith Norma Valverde in the short-lived Hands on a Hardbody.

Settle’s past theatre credits include the national tours of South Pacific and Hairspray (in which she finished the tour as the lead role) and the Broadway production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. She has received positive reviews for all of her performances, especially Hands on a Hardbody.

As Norma Valverde, her explosive anthem entitled “Joy of the Lord” was used in almost all of the promotional footage for the musical. For some people who saw the show, that was the only song they had heard before entering the theatre. It’s clear that none of them were disappointed by the live performance.

Settle was simply stunning in this role. Her number led to minutes of applause and cheers and when she finally took her hands off the truck, several audible gasps were let out from theatregoers as well.

To take on a role that is based on a real person who has not received much exposure and then receive multiple award nominations for that portrayal is an enormous feat. Settle played this character in a respectful and touching way, emphasizing Valverde’s deep-rooted faith in God and, ultimately, herself. It was empowering to watch. It was also incredible to see Settle completely stop the show.

As has been said many times before, Hands on a Hardbody should not have closed so soon. It is heartbreaking to now see the Brooks Atkinson Theatre vacant though it had a completely remarkable musical inhabiting it just a few months ago. Thankfully Settle (along with Keith Carradine) will be representing the company at the Tonys.

Settle’s kind disposition and humble attitude has come off in every interview she’s given about being nominated for the first time. She may not have been expecting the Tony nod but no one else was surprised. She is a genuinely inspiring and ridiculously talented lady and could be a frontrunner for the top prize!

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