Phish frontman Trey Anastasio wrote the score for Broadway hopeful Hands on a Hardbody, now at La Jolla Playhouse.
“A friend of mine, Ray Suen, he’s a local musician. He called me and said that Trey Anastasio [the leader of the band Phish] was looking for musicians and did I want him to submit my name?” Adrian Demain’s answer was yes. “But, I really didn’t think about it much after that.” The Oceanside-based guitarist says he was surprised to hear from Anastasio. “He said to me, ‘You’re the one I want.’” No audition? “He’d looked at some of my YouTube clips.”
Anastasio scored the musical adaptation of Hands on a Hardbody and was responsible for hiring a band to perform his music during the play’s run at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Demain says Anastasio wanted a different feel for the production. “He wanted real band players...not a generic pit band. It sounds kind of country, especially with Rick Schmidt on pedal steel.” Schmidt, also from San Diego, has performed with Heather Myles, Dennis Kaplinger, and Eve Selis. The rest of Anastasio’s band are from New York.
“We’re part of the set design, which is a parking lot,” says Demain. “We’re on a little stage on the stage. We’re a silhouette.”
La Jolla Playhouse directors commissioned Hands on a Hardbody, which is based on a 1997 documentary film of the same name. “Their goal,” says Demain, “is to get it to Broadway.” The plot: ten strangers compete to win a brand-new truck over a span of several hours by keeping at least one hand on the truck at all times.
How can you make a story about a guy standing around keeping his hands on a truck? Demain says, “You’d be surprised. It’s got everything, including humor and the American dream.”
He won’t say how the play ends, but of working directly with Anastasio, Demain says, “He’s been at rehearsals and at every premiere. He’s been pretty hands-on with the music.”
Being part of a house theatrical band is a change for Demain, a hired gun who often performs with Billy Watson or Brawley, has a residency as Exotica Tronica at Bar Pink in North Park, and sometimes plays a uke gig with Susanna Kurner. “It’s not what I do. I read music, but I’m not one of those guys you can throw a piece of music in front of and have me read it on the spot. Sight reading is a challenge.”
Hands on a Hardbody runs through June 17.