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2 Pianos 4 Hands is a Vital Recital

Having seen 2 Pianos, 4 Hands three times across the years (that’d be six pianos, 12 hands), I have to report that it seems better, and even fresher, than ever. It was in 1996 that Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt first launched their unclassifiable musical-dramatical-confessional entertainment upon the world, and this is its Positively Definitely Final Appearance, at least until the next time.

The show arose from a coincidence: the discovery on the part of two prolific actor-author-directors that each of them in his boyhood had aspirations to be a concert pianist, dreams they were forced to abandon in their late teens. At least that’s what happens to the two guys they play here, whom we presume to be self-portraits since one of them is called Teddy while the other is variously addressed as Ritchie, Rich or — when some authority figure wishes to read him the riot act — Richard.

It’s probably best regarded, in musical terms, as an autobiographical fantasia. Not everything in the show matches up with the facts; we know, from the program if nowhere else, that Dykstra grew up in Alberta and Greenblatt in Quebec, so they are unlikely to have been, as the show insists they were, duet partners in a junior Kiwanis Club competition, which required them (one piano, two hands) to take one part each of In the Hall of the Mountain King and at which one of them completely froze to the fury of the other. However, watching Dykstra catatonic with terror and Greenblatt purple with anger is enough to make you feel that it certainly should have happened. And maybe it really did, at least to one of them.

I had forgotten how much of the show is about humiliation, and how hilarious they make it seem. In the twin climactic scenes, each of our heroes, now both aged 17, auditions for a conservatory, one classical, one jazz. Both get rejected, Dykstra as the classical applicant being told by a memorably angry Greenblatt that he has all the necessary talent and none of the discipline.

Dykstra’s crumpled face as he hears the judgment should speak to anybody’s crushed adolescent dreams. He then switches to become the drawlingly laid-back jazz professor, crushingly contemptuous of the youthful Greenblatt’s claims to have recently acquired soul; “Where,” he asks “do you classical guys get off?” In an evening that’s quite fanatical about its symmetry, it’s notable that both masters claim to have heard 13-year-olds who play better than these self-confident young bucks.

But then these encounters are just the culmination of a series of bruising encounters with the outside world: with piano teachers whose methods are diametrically opposed; with parents who bully, bribe or blackmail their sons into practising and then in later years turn on them for practising too much; with belligerent drunks in bars who ask to hear Piano Man just after the pianist has played it. A motif from Teddy’s career will recur in Ritchie’s; ultimately the two are one. The cameo roles in which each plays off against the other’s principal portrayal are shared out with, as far as I could tell, scrupulous fairness and are etched with revue-sketch sharpness.

They sometimes seem to be fudging the time scheme; I doubt that cordless phones were much in evidence when these fellows were teenagers, though I have to admit that Dykstra looks mysteriously younger now than he did 10 years ago.

The question remains, too, whether their formative years were as wholly given over to music as they claim or whether they didn’t devote some of the time to, say, acting. Or did they have road-to-Damascus conversions at precisely the same age? If their current careers strike them as second-best, well, we should all have such second-bests. I mean, look at them now. So how do you get to the Panasonic? Don’t practise. Not that their piano chops seem all that rusty.

Their final claim to be, at the least, two of the best players in the neighbourhood is more than vindicated by their sign-off performance of a Bach concerto, with Sheep May Safely Graze as an even better encore. They co-directed the show themselves, and it flows beautifully and wittily. It’s pleasant that what seems to have started as a jeu d’esprit has turned out to be one of the sturdiest of Canadian plays. And, even at a third viewing, one of the funniest.

Robert Cushman

The National Post - Theatre Review

Starring in the Globe Theatre production of A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, Straker proved she was up to the task of portraying the country music superstar. The role is difficult - it's just not enough for the actor to be able to carry a tune with a pleasant voice. To bring credibility to the role, the voice has to be similar to Patsy's - it has to be husky, robust and powerful, and Straker's voice filled the bill quite admirably.

Writers Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra, whom have portrayed themselves for thousands of performances over the past ten years, have written a hugely entertaining, enlightening, and enthralling piece of theatre that is tremendously satisfying not only from a theatrical point of view but from a musical point of view as well.

Stages Repertory Theatre’s production of Richard Greenblatt & Ted Dykstra’s 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS is a lot of fun to take in and experience. The humor in the show carries it from moment to moment; yet, the immaculate and remarkable piano playing is what really mesmerizes and delights audiences. Overall, it is a family friendly show with a few instances of innuendo and language that may make the show inappropriate for children under the age of 10 or so. With the talent behind the keys at Stages Repertory Theatre, it is easy to see why the show is such an international sensation.

Adroit writing, skilled performers and an inventive recollection of childhood and adult musical travails merge into a fresh and invigorating comedy, laced with insights and delivering a rich comedic and emotional experience.

Whatever happens to all those kids who are burning with ambition to become the next Renee Fleming, the next Yo Yo Ma, or the next Oscar Peterson only to find that, for one reason or another, they are not quite going to make it?

Having seen 2 Pianos, 4 Hands three times across the years (that’d be six pianos, 12 hands), I have to report that it seems better, and even fresher, than ever.

Created and performed by Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra, Two Pianos, Four Hands follows the careers of two budding pianists from early music lessons through music festivals and conservatory auditions.

TORONTO - Were it not for a bit of divine intervention, this is a show that could just as easily be called 2 Sticks 4 Skates, 2 Feet 4 Pointe Shoes or even 2 Snowboards 4 Feet.

There are some shows you can see over and over again. They are like the welcome return of an old friend. Such is 2 Pianos 4 Hands.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt won’t be closing the keyboards on those pianos just yet. October 29, 2011 - December 4, 2011.

A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline at the Fireside Dinner Theatre, Fort Atkinson, WI, United States: May 5, 2011 - June 26, 2011

Shakespeare's Will at The Globe Theatre, Regina, SK, Canada: February 23, 2011 - March 13, 2011

2 Pianos 4 Hands at North Coast Rep, Solana Beach, CA, USA: January 12, 2011 - February 6, 2011

2 Pianos 4 Hands at the Park Square Theatre, St. Paul, MN USA: December 7, 2010 - January 2, 2011

Sexy Laundry at the Gateway Theatre, Richmond, BC, Canada November 11, 2010 - November 27, 2010

2 Pianos 4 Hands at the Perth Theatre, Scotland, UK - November 9, 2010 - November 20, 2010

2 Pianos 4 Hands at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland UK - October 28, 2010 - November 6, 2010

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at the Farmers Alley Theatre, Kalamazoo, MI USA September 17, 2010 - October 9, 2010

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse, Rock Island, IL USA September 3 - November 6, 2010  

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at The Round Barn Theatre, Amish Acres, Nappanee IN USA June 1, 2010 - July 11, 2010

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline at Back Bay Events Center, produced by Fiddlehead Theatre Company, April 7, 2010 - April 17, 2010

blood.claat, one ooman story at the Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver, BC, Canada April 7, 2010 - April 17, 2010

Mum's the Word United Kingdom Tour - Robert C Kelly Productions April 6, 2010 - July 31, 2010. For a complete schedule visit: http://www.robertckelly.co.uk/productions/mums/index.html 

2 Pianos, 4 Hands written by Ted Dykstra & Richard Greenblatt
at The Little Theatre on the Square, Sullivan, IL USA
March 12 - March 21, 2010

blood.claat written by d'bi young anitafrika at the Great Canadian Theatre Company, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  March 2 - 21, 2010

Monthy Python Meets Broadway in Robin Hood - The Environmental Family Musical

2 Pianos 4 Hands | A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline | Bear With Me | bittergirl: The Musical |
Hamlet (solo) | Jackson-Triggs Amphitheatre | Mom's the Word | Mom's the Word 2: Unhinged
Ross Petty Productions | Santa Baby | Sexy Laundry | Shakespeare's Will | The Summoned