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2 Pianos 4 Hands at Stages Repertory Theatre: A Rich Comedic and Emotional Experience

The set-up:

Two talented Canadian pianists and actors (Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra) who had trained for careers as classical musicians have created a play with music that defies description. It uses humor, musical ability and insightful memories of childhood piano lessons to delineate a world of ambition, frustrations, hard work, and responsibilities shared or shirked, all recollected and described with unflagging energy.

The execution:

All this is accomplished with impeccable taste; the performance is class itself - even the pratfalls are done in formal dress. Stages' Yeager Theater is a perfect setting: a stage large enough for two grand pianos yet intimate enough to keep the large audience close to the performers. Tom Frey plays one of the creators, Ted, and Jeffrey Rockwell plays Richard, the other, and both Frey and Rockwell are skilled pianists themselves, as the two hours amply document. They wore tails, and I felt under-dressed; all the class was on the stage.

The closest comparison is to Victor Borge's one-man show, but 2 Pianos is totally different, though just as much fun. The actors alternate playing tutor, parent and student in a series of vignettes of piano lessons, painful at the time but amusing in recollection. My favorite teacher, played by Frey, was an elderly maestro who taught while supine on the floor, who advised the 17-year-old student that playing an arpeggio with one hand would get him chicks because chicks found it manly. Frey is not only an excellent actor, he is also a deft mime - his facial expressions and eloquent gestures enhanced the humor enormously. Rockwell matches Trey in musical ability and acting proficiency, but it is Trey who has the moves.

This event is definitely a comedy, with some poignant moments. We meet a seriously un-hip classical musician whose dream is to be a jazz pianist, a child of ten who doesn't want to practice, and a musical nerd of 17 who doesn't want to stop. We see musical exercises, grueling entrance and graduation tests of a tyro musician's expertise and "ear." Even if you've personally never endured the rigors of piano lessons, you will still savor the earnest drive of youth, the stardust in the eyes of young performers, and the agony of rejection. This is a play about human nature, and it delivers home truths without pulling its punches. Forget Victor Borge - this is Chorus Line for the ears.

But much funnier. The humor is generally sophisticated, though some slapstick is thrown in. A brief glimpse of Jerry Lee Lewis is brilliant. An illuminated upstage screen changes colors to match the mood, and permits some shadow-figure humor. I'm delighted that Greenblatt and Dykstra sat down to create this musical pastiche, which has been a huge success in Canada, New York and other U.S. cities, and around the world. This is the regional premiere, and it is directed with pace and split-second timing by the actor playing Ted, Tom Frey. But Rockwell has the best line in his bio: "So much music, so little time, so few fingers." You get to see a comedy, and you get credit for going to a concert as well.

The verdict:

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.

2 Pianos, 4 Hands continues through October 28 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information or ticketing, call 713-527--0123 or contact the company website.

By Jim Tommaney of the Houston Press

Houston Press - 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: 

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