SUU theatre arts alumna Keala Settle continues to stop shows, just as she did while on campus, though the audience and stage are much bigger now that's she's made it to Broadway in the new musical smash, Hands on a Hardbody, which recently opened at New York’s Brooks Atkinson Theatre.
The New York Times hailed Settle as “winning, big-voiced” and called her song “Joy of the Lord” as “a cappella gospel hootenanny, is one of the show’s few out-and-out upbeat songs.” While The Hollywood Reporter singled Keala out as “The standout among those is the mighty-lunged — Settle’s rousing Hallelujah chorus, ‘Joy to the World.’”
Inspired by true events, Hands on a Hardbody is the story of 10 hard-luck Texans competing for a new lease on life that is so close they can touch it. Under a scorching sun for days on end, armed with nothing but hope, humor and ambition, they'll fight to keep at least one hand on a brand-new truck in order to win it. In the hilarious, hard-fought contest that is Hands on a Hardbody only one winner can drive away with the American Dream. The Broadway production features a book by Doug Wright (Pulitzer Prize winner, I Am My Own Wife), lyrics by Amanda Green (Bring it On: The Musical) and music by Trey Anastasio (Phish) and Amanda Green. Directed by Neil Pepe (Speed-the-Plow) with musical staging by Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Jersey Boys), the musical is based on the acclaimed 1997 documentary of the same name by S.R. Bindler, produced by Kevin Morris and Bindler.
While at SUU, Settle is fondly remembered for her outstanding performances in Department of Theatre Arts & Dance productions of South Pacific and Nunsense. After SUU, Keala won praise for her performances as Tracey Turnblad and Bloody Mary in the national tours of the award-winning productions of Hairspray the Musical and the Lincoln Center revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
Of Settle's time at SUU, Richard Bugg, professor of theatre arts who directed Keala in a few SUU productions, remembers “Keala always had those star qualities of stubbornness, determination, enormous talent, likeability, and a dash of mischievousness. It was always a pleasure to work with her and watch her spellbind the audience.”
Settle made her Broadway debut in the ensemble of the musical adaptation of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in 2011.
“Keala's success is not surprising," said dean of the College of the College of Performing & Visual Arts, Shauna Mendini. "Her work ethic, powerful voice and natural acting ability are truly exceptional. I am so proud she is sharing her extraordinary talent and representing Southern Utah University with such class.