Review: 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS

by Lynn on June 13, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Mirvish Productions, Toronto, Ont, until July 17, 2022.

Created and performed by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt

Directed by Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra

Production designer, Steve Lucas

Sound by John Lott

The Story. 2 Pianos 4 Hands is the musical journey of Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt of discovering the joys and pitfalls of learning to play the piano. It’s about the euphoria you get when playing classical music with such ease it’s like it’s embedded in the finger tips. And it’s about realizing that being as brilliant on the piano as Vladimir Horowitz might be unattainable, but being as good at playing the piano as Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt is a pretty good alternative.

The Production. In Steve Lucas’ simple production design, two Yamaha grand pianos face each other on the Royal Alexandra stage. A large picture frame is suspended behind each piano. As the show progresses projections of different window frames will appear in each large picture frame suggesting a change in location and perhaps a change in time.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt enter from either side of the stage. They are formally dressed: Ted Dykstra in black tie. vest and tails and Richard Greenblatt in white tie, white vest and black tails. They each sit on the piano bench, facing each other. Dykstra fusses over his bench, touching it, the piano, the bench, adjusting the distance of the bench from the piano then indicating that perhaps it would be better if he had Greenblatt’s bench, so they swap. Dykstra frets. Greenblatt is impatient and frustrated. When all is settled, they then play Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, 1st Movement, with confidence, style, concentration and total commitment.

In this small beginning scene the stage is set for the infectious humour that fills 2 Pianos 4 Hands. We get an insight into the peculiar world of gifted musicians and the rituals they need to complete in order to be comfortable enough to perform at such a high level.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt take us from when they were 10 years old, known as Teddy and Richie, struggling in their own way to learn the intricacies and mysteries of time signatures, the value of the various notes, learning the many codes for the names of the lines, the difference between major and minor chords and other baffling secrets that eluded them. As 10-year-old kids, both Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt show a confusion that is endearing and heartwarming. You don’t need to know the minutiae of music to appreciate what each kid was going through—we have all had to contend with concepts that left us baffled, be it the mysteries of music, math or science etc. 2 Pianos 4 Hands put us instantly in that world.

At times Dykstra would be the boy learning the piano and Greenblatt would be the frustrated but patient teacher, at other times they switched positions. Each man brings his own brand of humour to the part.

Somehow each boy went through the ritual of finding every excuse not to practice, then unlocking the mysteries of music and wanting to practice for the latest competition, getting better and better and more confident at playing. They dealt with the realities of blunt teachers who questioned why they were in music any way—Dykstra’s face creased at such a disappointment it squeezed the heart; Greenblatt dealt with his disappointment in his own stoical way, but was still moving. They both embraced playing classical music with verve, conviction, commitment and joy and the result was thrilling.

2 Pianos 4 Hands was first done in 1996 at the Tarragon Theatre where I first saw it. Over the years Dykstra and Greenblatt have tweaked, finessed and refined the show. They are a bit older than they were in 1996 but 2 Pianos 4 Hands is as fresh, moving and joyful as it was when it was first done all those years ago.

2 Pianos 4 Hands is pure joy. It results in a theatre full of smiling people jumping to their feet, clapping with enthusiasm. The show is a gift. See it.

David Mirvish presents, The Marquis Entertainment Inc. & Talking Fingers Inc.

Plays until: July 17, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes. (1 intermission)

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