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|A CurtainUp Review
Two Pianos, Four Hands
Two Pianos, Four Hands arrived at the Promenade Theater this week on the wings of a successful 12-city tour in Canada. Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, the show's creators and stars, have indeed managed to spin an entertaining musical memoir out of ten years of piano lessons, starting at age 7.
It begins with not-so-gentle parental nudging to practice and gradually evolves into a self-motivated determination to become world class concert pianists. Essentially, what we get is a series of humorous sketches, beginning with Dykstra and Greenblatt in traditional concert artist tail coated suits joining the other stars, two Yamaha grand pianos. This opening sketch which seems like a double dose of Victor Borge gradually evolves into a play that happens to be structured around this collage of comic vignettes. It is a play to which even those who've never had a piano lesson can relate. The knife-in-the-heart sensation that accompanies the realization that practice-practice-practice may not take you to Carnegie Hall after all--or, to Wimbleden, the corner office of your own Microsoft Company or a law firm partnership.
There are no costume changes and only a curtained golden arch for the performers' periodic entrances and exits, (both costumes and set design are by Steve Lucas). But there are some twenty characters (don't hold me to that since I lost count!) to flesh out the two pianists merged musical histories of weathering stage fright, teachers ranging from dull to incompetent to brutally tough, the loss of ordinary boyhood pleasures, controlling parents and fierce competition. Their personality shifts are as nimble as their fingers on the keyboards.
The fact that the show has been enough of a hit throughout Canada to travel to New York and the twenty-five musical selections (from Bach to Billy Joel) performed with better than "best on the block" proficiency, provide ample evidence that all those hours of practice were not really wasted. It's this picture of being able to laugh at and come to grips with unrealized dreams that gives Two Pianos, Four Hands the optimism and poignancy to lift it out of its performance sketch structure. It's also what should fill the theater with 30 to 50 audiences as well as the over-fifty diehards.
With their rather ordinary appearance and universal wistfulness about less-than-fully realized aspirations Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt are your typical boomers. This generation, already well-represented at the last preview performance I attended, laughed in all the right places . They seemed to relate with particular "me-too" enthusiasm to a scene in which Ted Dykstra plays himself as a teen-aged "music nerd" and Richard Greenblatt, dons the persona of a father who suddenly demands that he become more rounded so he can get into a good university and learn something "to fall back on." When the father tries to tell him it's his job to make sure he didn't waste his money in encouraging his musical talent and Dykstra flashes back with "And you're my father--that's your job" this audience not only laughed, but applauded. At the end of the show they stood almost in unison to give the performers a rousing ovation.
The current production deserved a fuller treatment than the twenty-five minute concept piece from which it evolved. However, even given the extensive musical numbers, two and a half hours, (not two as listed in most newspapers), stretches a good thing to its utmost limits. Director Gloria Muzio is reported to have made some cuts, but I think she put her blue pencil away too soon. Be that as it may, Two Pianos, Four Hands is likely to beat Zabar's (the famous Nosherei a bit to the North of the Promenade Theater) as an inducement to grab a bus headed for this always lively part of town.