Having a passion, trying to excel at it and ultimately learning of your limitations.
That is what happened to Canadian actors Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, who each yearned to become concert pianists. And after obsessing over that goal, they had to come to grips with the fact that they were good, but not good enough.
So they wrote a show about it instead, 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, which became an international sleeper hit and now is on view in a crisp, unadorned production at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Like A Chorus Line, which looked at the determination and heartaches of Broadway dancers, here is a show that should _ pardon the expression _ strike a chord with audience members, even those who never took a piano lesson.
Ultimately, 2 Pianos offers the reassuring thought that we should accept our abilities, even if they are not world-class. So what might have been a downbeat conclusion to Dykstra and Greenblatt's quasi-autobiography is given a celebratory spin. Of course, it does not hurt that they use plenty of self-deprecating humor along the way to tell their histories.
Like a pianist rubbing his hands together to warm up, before 2 Pianos gets down to business, it wins us over with some Victor Borge-esque kidding-the-classics humor. Then it follows the lives of young Teddy and Ritchie, who come up against sour parents, disapproving piano teachers and dismissive conservatory proctors.
Dykstra and Greenblatt never suspected the impact their show would have, so they probably never considered how difficult it would be to find talented comic actors who were also highly adept at the piano. They were merely creating juicy roles for themselves and their particular skills.
Still, the show has meant steady employment for performers who paid attention during their piano lessons when they were growing up. The Maltz has the services of two such multi-tasking actors, Richard Carsey (Richard) and Tom Frey (Ted). Both have varied careers on the stage, but much of their time over the past decade has been spent in tours and regional productions of 2 Pianos. The Maltz further ensures the show's authenticity by pulling in Greenblatt to direct, so that everything that happens is only separated one degree from its original source.
The taller Frey not only has superb comic timing but is physically adept, which helps to trigger additional laughs as he anguishes over the challenges of the piano. Both actors double as various teachers and students, but Carsey is particularly good at wearing other personalities, like the housewife who would rather chat about herself than hunker down and apply herself during her lesson.
Both actors are able to assume and shed characters at will, like so many performers could. But factor in their musicianship and what they achieve and make seem second nature is astonishing. As with their precision piano playing, the two of them mesh with deceptive ease.
Like Dykstra and Greenblatt before them, though, they conclude with a sigh that they are not two of the best piano players in the world or even the country, but they are at least two of the best in the neighborhood. And they proceed to prove it with an extremely accomplished two-piano rendition of Bach's D Minor Concerto, bits of which they had teased us with throughout the evening.For the next two weeks, their neighborhood will be the Maltz Jupiter, a most entertaining and musical place to spend some time.
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