Albany’s Park Playhouse proves that outdoor summer theater can be done well

Attending an outdoor theater production involves a bit of risk, but you can set aside your worries w
The musical 'Hands on a Hardbody' plays through July 26 at the Park Playhouse in Albany's Washington Park.
The musical 'Hands on a Hardbody' plays through July 26 at the Park Playhouse in Albany's Washington Park.

Attending an outdoor theater production involves a bit of risk.

Unlike a movie theater, there are no cushioned seats or any guarantee of 72-degree temperatures. There’s a bigger risk, though: the entertainment factor. Casual, summertime productions can be hit or miss.

But you can set aside your worries when it comes to Albany’s Park Playhouse. You might even forget about the mosquitoes.

The musical “Hands on a Hardbody” will be performed at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday at the Park Playhouse. The musical received three Tony Award nominations during its recent run on Broadway.

“Hands on a Hardbody” tells the story of 10 people in a contest that offers a pickup truck to the person who can keep a hand on it the longest. It’s the publicity stunt of a car dealership desperately trying to meet a sales quota.

In the minutes before the musical starts, twangy country music plays. This helps lay the groundwork for the upcoming Texas story. Just before 8 p.m., the sun slips below the line of trees to the west, so people sitting in the high amphitheater seats are no longer blinded by light.

And about the “amphitheater”: Wooden boards were built into the slope of a hill, lending structure to the broad, grassy steps people sit on. It’s pretty, and sitting up here costs nothing.

Below are reserved seats, ranging in price from $13 to $22, depending on a person’s age and the location of their seat.

Hundreds were content to bring blankets or folding chairs to the amphitheater. Last Thursday, Jonathan Blackburn brought his four sons — Charles, 9, George, 7, Benjamin, 5, and Roger, 2, (who claimed to be 6) — to the top of the amphitheater. They came to cheer for Jonathan’s wife, Chame, a cellist playing in the orchestra pit behind the stage.

The boys made sitting comfortably for 21⁄2 hours look easy, each leaning on the shoulder to his right, like dominos half-fallen over.

There’s a bit of gritty language, but the musical is pretty kid-friendly, meaning children would actually enjoy the personalities on stage. Anyone who’s seen the 2012 film “The Hunger Games” could draw a comparison between Effie Trinket and the musical’s Cindy Barnes, both because of her fuschia-colored suit and her comically fluttery demeanor. And the drawling, mildly offensive car salesman had the audience laughing with lines that could have come from the mouth of Champ Kind, the raunchy newsman from “Anchorman.”

Concession stands sell beer and wine, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and even an unusual sandwich named The Wilson. It’s a peanut butter sandwich filled with crushed pretzels and grilled. The sweet-and-salty flavor combination is a favorite of Rich Wilson, who runs the Ben & Jerry’s stand and invented the sandwich.

“Hands on a Hardbody” runs through Saturday, July 26. Next up is the musical “Oliver!” from Aug. 2-16, closing the Park Playhouse’s 26th summer season.

Categories: Entertainment

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