2 Pianos 4 Hands, the two-actor musical entertainment that was a sensation in Canada and is now blossoming in American regional theatres, begins performances Feb. 5 at Actors’ Theatre of Louisville.  The musically eclectic production, about two pianists and the stories behind their lifelong obsession with the instrument, is not simple to cast or develop since musicianship and personality are keys to the experience, so ATL has booked the Marquis Entertainment Inc. production of the work by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt.

The original creators help maintain international productions of the show; Greenblatt directs the Marquis Louisville staging that pairs pianists Richard Carsey (as Richard) and Tom Frey (as Ted) for the first time. Each actor-pianist has played the show elsewhere.

The comedy with music, first performed by Greenblatt and Dykstra at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre in the 1990s, is the story of a pair of budding musicians "and their piano-nerd childhoods," according to ATL production notes.

Billed as "a musical piece about a lifetime's obsession with 88 piano keys," this production "is a hilarious and heartwarming story performed by two gifted actor musicians who portray a bevy of characters, from the aspiring musicians themselves to eccentric teachers, proud parents, fierce competitors and brutally honest adjudicators. And all the while they're tickling the ivories, offering up everything from Bach and Beethoven to Billy Joel's 'Piano Man.'"

Performances continue in the Pamela Brown Auditorium to Feb. 28.

Actor-pianist Frey previously played Richard in productions around the country and understudied Dykstra in the most recent Toronto run. Carsey played Richard in the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre run of the show.

Carsey is the artistic director of Skylight Opera Theatre in Milwaukee. In the fall, he relinquishes that position to pursue acting, performing and conducting projects, while maintaining the role of principal conductor at Skylight.

The performances of Richard Carsey and Tom Frey in "2 Pianos 4 Hands" at Actors Theatre are as polished as the matching pair of Steinways they play at center stage.

In this highly amusing show, the accomplished musicians also prove to be versatile actors as they enact the stories of two gifted young pianists who eventually learn the painful truth of their limitations in a competitive world that demands obsessive practice and a brush of genius.

The musical-comedy begins with an extended visual joke related to the just-so positioning of their piano benches, the musicians' hands over the keyboard and the coordinated flip of their tuxedo tails as they sit. From there, each actor-musician plays a young pianist struggling to master scales and time signatures. Carsey plays Richard and Frey is Ted. When one musician plays a child or teenager, the other portrays his parent or teacher.

Carsey, who is director of the Skylight Opera Theater in Milwaukee, Wis., and Frey, an actor-composer based in New York City, together play portions or all of 24 musical pieces. And each actor portrays more than a half dozen characters without changing costumes. Using only their voices, posture and mannerisms, they effectively create other distinctive characters.

Frey, for example, plays a confident musical student, an Italian piano teacher with a bad back, Richard's mother and father, and a snobbish jazz teacher. As Richard, Carsey, who studied with Lee Luvisi at the University of Louisville and earned a master's degree at Indiana University, engages completely with expressive portrayals of a peevish young musician bored with practicing, a German music examiner, a French piano teacher and Ted's no-nonsense father.

"2 Pianos 4 Hands" recounts the familiar agonies of early piano lessons, the experience of being a teenage music nerd, the competitiveness between serious young musicians and the clashes with teachers and parents as a child prodigy grows up. Carsey and Frey are such well-trained musicians, they probably had to practice making mistakes so that Richard and Ted would appear as believable piano students.

Although the show is a series of vignettes, it's neither disjointed nor a mere assortment of satirical jabs at the classical world. The music is played seriously and well. The story is witty and has moments of touching drama, notably when Ted auditions for Canada's Conservatory of Music only to be told that he's exceedingly talented but too lazy and undisciplined to make it there. In a snappy, comic scene as entertaining as the piano duets, the two actors volley in a quick-recall test involving the names of famous composers and the definitions of music terms ranging from adagio to tranquillemente.

The show is based on the experiences of two Canadian composers and actors, Ted Dykstra of Toronto and Montreal native Richard Greenblatt. The production at Actors Theatre, directed by Greenblatt, is a touring show booked by Actors Theatre and sponsored by Aegon. The lighting and sets were designed by Canadian theater artists Sandra Marcroft and Steven Lucas, respectively.

From "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul" to classical works by Bach (D Minor Concerto) and Beethoven (Pathetique Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, 1st and 2nd Movements), with some Billy Joel ("Piano Man") and Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls of Fire") thrown in for good measure, the show is a delightful two hours that will make you laugh in recognition and sigh in sympathy for its young pianists.

It may also trigger an unpleasant flashback ... You're 8 years old. It's your first piano recital. The room is crowded with blurry faces. Your stomach quivers as if a wave of butterflies is migrating through your body, and your mind, well, it's a complete blank. Uh-oh.

Whether or not you have ever taken a music lesson or faced a public recital, everyone at times faces fear of failure and the possibility of subsequent humiliation. With humor and music, "2 Pianos 4 Hands" tells us that striving for a dream is important and there is consolation and joy in doing what one loves, even if you don't become the best in the world.