Tickling the Ivories and the Funny Bone
Did you hate it when you took piano lessons and your mother forced you to practice for one full hour every night? Or did you pace the hallway, straining to hear the piano notes through the closed door as your son struggled with his conservatory exam? If you’ve lived through either of these experiences, you’ll appreciate 2 Pianos 4 Hands.
2 Pianos 4 Hands is a funny and touching musical comedy currently on stage at London’s Grand Theatre. 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, while the elderly Kiwanis member stumbles through the introductions and 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.
Bryce Kulak plays Richard, and Richard Todd Adams 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. Tucked in with the beautiful 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 heartwarming result is worth seeing.
2 Pianos 4 Hands continues at the Grand Theatre, London until October 31. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Richard Todd Adams as Ted and Bryce Kulak as Richard. Photo by Max Telzerow.
2 Pianos 4 Hands
Written by Ted Dykstra & Richard Greenblatt
Directed by Richard Greenblatt
Performed by Richard Todd Adams and Bryce Kulak
The Grand Theatre, London
October 13-31, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson