David Mirvish, Marquis Entertainment & Talking Fingers/2 Pianos 4 Hands, created, performed and directed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, Royal Alexandra Theatre, June 4 to July 17. Tickets here.
2 Pianos 4 Hands is a Canadian theatre classic. No matter how many times you see it, this insightful look into becoming a classical musician remains fresh and funny. Even if you’ve never had a piano lesson in your life, the show is laugh out loud with a bite — the bite being, what happens when you don’t make it.
Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt premiered the show in 1996, and it has been going strong ever since, having played to almost two million people on five continents. Now the two men have reunited for the 25th anniversary of 2 Pianos 4 Hands, and it is a joy to have them back.
The premise is simple. We follow young Teddy and Richie from their early days of hating piano lessons and all the practice involved, up to the point where they begin to take the piano very seriously. Along the way we meet their long-suffering piano teachers, their nagging parents, the later teachers who inspire them, their competitiveness, the exams they have to pass, and finally, the breaking of their dreams.
Is it funny? You bet it is, although poignancy also abounds.
What makes 2 Pianos 4 Hands so endearing are the characters we meet, such as Richie’s fragile teacher Sister Loyola, or the hapless man in charge of the Kiwanis Festival, who has to endure 67 pairs of the Under 11s playing the same duet piece. In other words, the show gives Dykstra and Greenblatt the chance to show off their acting chops, as well as their piano playing skills — and they are extremely talented as both actors and pianists.
Throughout the show, we also get to hear some wonderful classical music from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg, Chopin, Albéniz, Schumann, Liszt, and Schubert. There is also a touch of popular music by Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hart, and Billy Joel. Yes, “Piano Man” does make an appearance.
Perhaps the most shocking incident is Ted’s audition for admittance to the Conservatory, and Greenblatt’s ferocious, cutting, pulverizing, negative rant of refusal against a vulnerable young man. One wonders how a teenager ever recovers from such an onslaught. On the other hand, while Dykstra’s telling young Richard he won’t be admitted to the Faculty of Jazz is somewhat kinder, it is still, in its own way, very harsh.
Designer Steve Lucas has provided two large picture frames for the set, which stand behind the two pianos. They serve to denote location. For example, a series of different windows indicate various rooms, such as the piano studios or the boys’ own homes. We also get Kiwanis and Conservatory crests, for example.
All in all, the charm of the show rests in Dykstra and Greenblatt, and the characters they portray. 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a run-don’t-walk, and a cheerful tonic for the disturbing temper of our times.
And, a final note. I don’t know how far each man really wanted to go in their pursuit of being a professional musician, classical or otherwise, but the theatre world is richer because this is where they have made their careers as actors, directors, and writers. Together, they have won 13 Dora Awards between them.
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