Musical comedy to tickle you and the ivories
2 Pianos 4 Hands
Written by Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra
Directed by Richard Greenblatt
Performed by Patrick Burwell and Jonathan Monro
Drayton Entertainment Production
Playhouse II, Grand Bend
July 15 to August 29, 2009
Live! On Stage!
Review by Mary Alderson
Anyone who has ever taken piano lessons and hated it when your mother forced you to practise every night for one full hour, will appreciate the opening of 2 Pianos 4 Hands. Any parent who has paced in the hallway, straining to listen while your son or daughter struggles through a Conservatory piano exam, will enjoy this show.
2 Pianos 4 Hands is a funny and touching musical comedy currently on stage at Playhouse II, inside the old barn beside Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend. Playhouse II’s intimate space is perfect for this production as we get to know the characters well.
The story is semi-autobiographical, written by Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra, two Canadian actors/pianists who realized that they had the same experience growing up and learning to play piano. They collaborated on the play, which was first performed in 1994 in Toronto. Since then, it has been off-Broadway, all across Canada and the U.S., as well as London, England; South Africa and Japan. It’s been called Canada’s most successful musical comedy. Greenblatt and Dykstra originally played the roles themselves, but many others have followed, including female performers playing characters Rachel and Thea.
The story starts off with Richard and Ted as little boys. While one is at the piano, the other plays a strict parent or a strange piano teacher. We’re with them as they prepare for the music festival, and the elderly Kiwanis member stumbles through the introductions while the bizarre adjudicator offers words of advice. There is an assortment of eccentric piano teachers as the boys cram for conservatory exams and practise their ear training. Somewhere along their journey, the emphasis shifts from trying to avoid practise to spending every spare minute at the piano. As nerdy teenagers they are told to find other interests and get out more. Finally comes the crushing blow – reality sets in and they realize they aren’t going to be classical concert pianists. Harsh teachers tell them they are good, just not good enough.
Patrick Burwell plays Richard, and Jonathan Monro plays Ted. Both are accomplished pianists and excellent comedic actors. With author and performer Richard Greenblatt directing, we can rest assured that this production is exactly as it was intended to be.
The music played ranges from Bach, Beethoven and Mozart to Heart and Soul and Chopsticks. Among the great classical music is a pop medley including Elton John, John Lennon and even Linus’ song in the Peanuts movies.
It’s a poignant everyman story – from the kid on the hockey rink who’s sure he’ll make the NHL but gets cut from the try-outs, to the smart university student who can’t get the marks for med school. Sometimes the dream doesn’t always unfold as hoped, but the journey is always interesting, and in this case funny, emotional and entertaining.
Fortunately for Richard and Ted, they do move on in the world of entertainment – acting, directing and writing a wonderful musical comedy. The result is worth seeing.
2 Pianos 4 Hands continues with eight shows a week until August 29 at Playhouse II, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000, Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463 or at www.draytonentertainment.com.
Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.