Why ‘Hands on a Hardbody’ star Hunter Foster deserved a Tony nod

Hunter Foster in "Hands on a Hardbody."

Hunter Foster in “Hands on a Hardbody.”

On April 10, 2013, a mere three days before it closed, I was lucky enough to witness a beautiful piece of theatre history at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre entitled Hands on a Hardbody. Although this musical wasn’t wildly loved and praised by its critics, there were a few assets that made the musical special: the heart and soul of it, and the cast.

If I could award a special Tony Award to every single member of this company, I would. As the musical progresses, the audience is able to see each character open up and listen to their stories. This includes a marine who has battled strenuously and seen the worst of war, a woman who seeks guidance in her faith, a man who has just recently left the hospital and has entered the grueling “hands on” competition against all odds, and two starry-eyed kids who want nothing more than to get out of their small Texas town.

These are but a few of the back-stories attached to these characters, and every actor portrayed their role with honesty and respect. As was mentioned, every single member of this cast was brilliant in their own way. I am a huge supporter of ensemble companies who come together and work almost as a machine (perhaps a hardbody in this case) in order to convey the messages of their show. This group of people did exactly that.

However, when the Tony nominations came out, it was disappointing to see one actor missing from the Best Featured Actor in a Musical category: Hunter Foster.

Over the years, Foster has performed in numerous Broadway productions, including Les Miserables, Little Shop of Horrors, and Urinetown. With every musical he’s been involved in, he has portrayed various characters who have showcased his versatility as an actor. In Hands on a Hardbody he played Benny Perkins; a man who is seemingly made of stone and eventually cracks by the show’s end. His southern drawl and tough exterior transformed him, and audiences were swept up into his complex back-story as well.

It is Perkins’ second year in the competition to win this truck, and since he won last time and walked away with a brand new car, his opponents do not necessarily appreciate his presence to say the least. Foster opens the show by explaining to the audience that this is more than just a contest and that there are elements of skill and perseverance that are imperative to being victorious. He also closes the first act with the showstopper “Hunt with the Big Dogs” where he is firmly placed on a rotating truck while belting out some intensely sharp lyrics at his competitors. This is a huge contrast to his moving performance of “God Answered My Prayers” in which he finally takes his hands off the truck. It is revealed that Perkins’ wife left him (and took the truck he won last year with her) and his son was a Marine who committed suicide after his service.

As someone who sat just a few rows from the stage, being able to see the pain Foster had in his eyes while his character tried to stand up for himself was unbelievable. His confrontational attitude could have made Perkins an unlikeable part of the musical, but as each layer peeled away, the theatre-goers I encountered loved him more and more. There was not a dry eye in the house during his character’s departure from the competition.

There is so much to be said for an actor who continuously delivers passionate and awe-inspiring performances. If Hands on a Hardbody hadn’t closed so soon, I would have seen it again and again. Foster never ceases to amaze me, and it is unfortunate that he was not recognized in every way possible for this particular performance.

So here’s to you, Mr. Foster. You’ve brought audiences to tears, laughter and, of course, to their feet by the end of your shows over the years. You are one of Broadway’s finest actors, and we thank you for your outstanding performances.

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