EDMONTON - Back in 1947, Louis Cyr and I were to play a duet for the final concert of Sister Francisi piano class. Our mothers dressed us in our best and we dutifully walked out on the stage, in front of our proud parents.
As I set out to play the first note, I realized we were on the wrong side of the bench. I faced the treble notes, and Louis the bass, instead of the other way around.
There was a pause that stretched to the outer limits of the known universe. And then I started to giggle. Louis picked it up and soon the two of us were lying helpless on the bench. We never made it to the end of the piece.
I was reminded of my fall from grace (and the end of my career as a concert pianist) as I watched Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt's 2 Pianos 4 Hands. Only in this one, the two mini-Van Cliburns burst into tears when one forgets her music at the dreaded Kiwanis Festival and the piece ends in watery hysterics.
2 Pianos 4 Hands began when St Albert's Dykstra and Montreal's Greenblatt got together one night in Toronto and began trading stories of growing up piano nerds.
Everyone who ever took piano knows the same tunes, made up the same excuses to get out of practicing and learned to live with the quirkiness of their piano teachers. The two thought there might be an entertainment in the similar experiences they shared at opposite ends of the country and premiered the subsequent work in Toronto.

The rest, as they say, is now Canadian theatrical history - the long run in Toronto, the success in New York, Washington and on the road.
The wild acceptance in Birmingham, England and then later in the West End. The Paris production. The Australian tour. (Dykstra dedicates the work to his piano teacher - Edmonton's Dr. Lillian Upright.) And now, after being jilted by Dykstra's hometown on its first national tour a couple of years back, the production finally arrives in Edmonton. Only instead of the two originals, the roles are played by women - Karen Woolridge (Rachel) and Shari Saunders (Thea).
I have never seen the guys at the piano, but the ladies, god bless 'em, are just fine. The two present contrasting comic styles. Saunders plays broadly delivering her lines with an operatic flare and changing character on a 16th note. Woolridge is no less effective underplaying and finding much of her humour in a mobile pixie face, a sly double take and long, expressive reactions.
One plays the piano with a bit more flair than the other but this is a very funny, nostalgia laced, memory piece - not a concert.
At any rate, together the two are dynamite, mining the material for all it's worth. Between them, they play two struggling musicians from a very tender age. They also create a galaxy of well-crafted inhabitants of the exotic inner world of music including various moms, dads, teachers, adjudicators, judges and examiners. There's poor, frustrated Sister Loyola who seems to end each lesson

with her very young charges by saying, "Sister has a pain in her head. She's going to go upstairs for cup of tea and a lie down. You let yourself out when your lesson is over."
Anyone who has joined the hundreds of other little Kuertis at the Kiwanis Festival will remember the shell-shocked adjudicator who grinds out, "It's my pleasure to have been at these proceedings since that Monday morning three weeks ago."
From the opening bit where the two engage in battling scales, which lead to that perennial duet number Heart and Soul, to the heartfelt (if a bit spotty) playing of the complete Allegro movement of Bach's D Minor Concerto, the show never loses its sense of humour. (In between, you'll hear everything from Brahms to Billy Joel.)
Later, the evening becomes a bit more serious as some heavy decisions about what is important in life and just how far one's talent can take one, begin to creep into the comic mix. But even then there is a sense of remembering it all with a bemused twinkle.
As you might imagine, Greenblatt directs as if he experienced the whole thing first hand (come to think of it - he did). His simple, uncluttered staging, using Steve Lucas's clever projections, keeps the focus right where it should be - on the performers.
It may have taken almost five years but this small, intimate and entertaining collaboration, which runs at the Citadel Theatre until June 4, has finally arrived in Edmonton.
It was worth the wait.