Charlotte’s cosmopolitan enough for most of us to pretend there’s no culture worth worrying about beyond the city limits. I’ve had people tell me over the years that Winston-Salem and even Rock Hill – let alone the Spoleto Festival in Charleston – are too far off to pursue, no matter how appealing an offering might be.
I can be as lazy as the next guy. But I occasionally stir myself for a look at the wider world, and that usually pays off. It did Thursday night in Salisbury.
Even with one inexplicable traffic clog on I-85, I got there in less than an hour. I parked on Main Street and spent 45 minutes in the bargain basement at South Main Book Company, where books are 5 for $10. (My wife may read this, so I’m not going to say how many I bought.) I had a satisfying Thai dinner at Bangkok Downtown on Innes Street. Then I walked back to Main for the reason I had come: the musical “Hands on a Hardbody,” which Piedmont Players is producing at Meroney Theatre.
The show, which played long enough on Broadway to earn a Tony nomination for best score three years ago, comes from the 1997 documentary film of the same name. It’s about people who go to a Nissan dealership in Longview, Tex., for a simple contest: The one who can stand the longest while keeping one hand on a new truck drives it home.
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We meet a Marine with psychological trauma, a couple whose marriage is shaky and another whose marriage is secure, a Latino Texan mistaken for an immigrant (and justly annoyed), a woman whose faith in God sustains her – Alexis Greer really rocked this role – and others who need the truck to satisfy their egos, help them escape to L.A. or ferry them to job interviews. I was especially impressed with the small pit orchestra, as good as any I hear at Charlotte-produced musicals.
I wouldn’t have had to drive up the highway if anyone in Mecklenburg County staged out-of-the-way pieces like this one, which runs through Aug. 6. But Piedmont has a habit of picking up shows nobody else will do: It put on the local premiere of Alan Menken’s “Leap of Faith” – in fact, the first production anywhere after Broadway – and will tackle “Peter and the Starcatcher” in the 2016-17 season.
The cultural world’s a large place. And sometimes a little city can teach a big neighbor a thing or two about theater.