Two Pianos, 4 Hands, struck all the right notes in its opening night at the Great Canadian Theatre Company.
This is one of those beautiful little productions that makes you fall in love with theatre. True to its title, the show is simple and understated. Yet it's also remarkably moving and profound. And did I mention funny? We're talking tears-streaming-down-your-face funny.
Created and performed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is ostensibly about piano lessons. But, of course, it's also about dreams, discipline and disappointment.
The set consists of two grand pianos, surrounded by a red theatre curtain. The play opens like any classical music concert. Two actors in coats and tails walk on from opposite sides of the stage, bow and sit at the pianos.
We think they'll begin to play. Instead, they engage in a hilarious exchange of throat clearing, nodding and eyebrow twitching. Finally, they do begin and establish their credentials on the keyboard. These are remarkable musicians. Perhaps not concert-circuit calibre, but certainly talented and well trained.
Speaking of training... the duet eventually degenerates and we fall into the past, where this training all began. One actor suddenly becomes the piano teacher - the other, the student, then vice versa. Scenes bounce back and forth like this, describing the rise of two talented students. We follow them from their first lessons, to their Kiwanis Music Festival recital, to their Royal Conservatory of Music exam. We see them fight with their parents about not practising and eventually about
practising too much. We watch them grow from rather normal kids, who would rather be playing hockey, into decidedly nerdy teens who never go out to anything but music-related events.
One thing that gives this show such resonance is its authenticity. Anyone who has taken a music lesson knows all too well those insane little ditties that are supposed to help you memorize key signatures.
Anyone who has changed music teachers has heard the indignant question: "Didn't your previous teacher teach you that?" Anyone who has sat through a Kiwanis Music Festival knows that look of pure horror when a child is overcome by stage fright.
Dykstra and Greenblatt are both brilliant actors. At the sound of a chord, they flip from one character to another -- one minute playing a seven-year-old piano student with his nose almost touching his hands, the next, a decidedly tired and exasperated music teacher with a permanent migraine.
Together, they people the stage with the many colorful characters one encounters in the music world.
But the show is not all fun familiarity.
The second act takes a thoughtful turn because at age 17 the question is not: Are you going to pass the Royal Conservatory exam? It's, Do you have what it takes to go professional?
Without overstating the case or turning maudlin, they explore the question of aspirations and determination -- and, of course, compromises. The result is a touching harmonization of dreams and reality.
RATING: 5 out of 5
OTTAWA - The halls are alive with the sound of music, kvetching and laughter with a new production of 2 Pianos 4 Hands at the NAC.
The little show about two pianos and two pianists strikes the right chord in a new female production with Shari Saunders and Karen Woolridge at the keyboards and in each other's face.
Written by Toronto-based Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt 2 Pianos 4 Hands is one part memory play, one part stand-up comedy and a part piano recital. Performed as a series of rambunctious musical skits with bleeding chunks of classical music's better hits, the book follows two girls from their first piano lesson to becoming 30-somethings, knocking back beers and speculating on the concert career that got away. In between, there is a cast of hundreds, including fretting mothers, the lisping adjudicator who pronounces "piece" as "piss," the sinister examiner and the dozens of piano teachers students both idolize and dread. Playing the piano is like puberty; it's a shared grief that bonds all who endure it together.
2 Pianos 4 Hands is not a musical-comedy that only piano people will get. Co-authors Dykstra and Greenblatt rely on loads of energy and tin-ear humour to entertain
those who can't tell a major scale from a minor. Frustrated practising the Chopin Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Woolridge and Saunders seamlessly segue into rock and roll. The soul of the teenaged piano student is a democratic confederation. Liszt, Bach, Grieg and Horowitz share digs with Elton John, Billy Joel and John Lennon. Marrying music with mirth, the production is at times, a nod to Victor Borge, Hope and Crosby, and Thelma and Louise, all clocking in at 90 minutes. Saunders and Woolridge delightfully negotiate the monkey business with Mozartian glee.
Directed by Greenblatt with a father's touch, they play all the right notes in the ascending and descending scales of growing up a normal kid in the mythological world of classical music. Entertaining when they have to be and dazzling when the music's right, both Saunders and Woolridge are accomplished pianists, clever enough for a wild game of piano-bench Twister while playing the Bach D Minor Concerto.
Balancing a love of music with comedy, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is, in the final draft, a heart-warming romantic comedy. Thursday, July 30, 1998