2 Pianos, 4 Hands

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt’s humorous portrait of two men growing up as musicians trying to make it big

Kevin Farrell & Steven Worbey at Vienna’s English Theatre through Oct. 17 | Photo: Reinhard Reidinger

Two grand pianos fill the stage, nestled back to back. Two pianists, scrubbed young men in white tie and tails, come in and bow, separate, and take their seats at the keyboard, poised… Then one gets up, nervously, and walks around to the other and whispers. The other shrugs. They change pianos, then change back, then switch benches…

Being a concert pianist is a trial of nerve, a life-long struggle for self-mastery. And in the hands (literally) of pianist-comedians Kevin Farrell and Steven Worbey, a scene of endearing self-mockery and fun in the midst of marvelous music-making.

Two Pianos, Four Hands, playing through Oct. 17 at Vienna’s English Theatre, is what you might call “concert comedy.” In this production directed by Julian Woolford, the audience is treated to a stage show that is a humorous portrait of growing up as a musician accompanied by the music itself, in excerpts and snatches and ultimately – just in case you doubted this was the real thing – in a handful of satisfying performances of Mozart, Chopin, Gershwin, Rimsky-Korsakov.

The playwrights and original creators of the show were Canadian musicians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, that began as a workshop production in Toronto of their comedy-duo Talking Fingers. It was performed widely in Canada before opening Off Broadway in 1997, at the Kennedy Center in Washington – both productions by Dysktra and Greenblatt – and the moving to London’s West End. They brought the show back to Toronto for a sold out run at the Elgin Theater, and went on to tour Japan.

Farrell and Worbey are among several pairs of pianists who have taken over the roles since. Wildly popular on UK concert stages and music festivals as the comedy duo Katzenjammer, they are also regulars live on the BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night – and were voted “Best of YouTube” in Christmas 2008.

All of which made some of the heated post-performance discussion particularly diverting.

“The effects are incredible!” one woman gushed with appreciation over her Sekt-orange at the opening night reception that spilled out onto the sidewalk after the show. “It really looks like they are actually playing!”

“You mean, they’re not?” her husband said uncertainly. “But it looked…”

“…like that other play,” suggested a second woman, “about the singing teacher in Vienna…” [Old Wicked Songs, 2008-2009 season. Ed.] “They did that one with a player piano.”

“Exactly!” said the first woman triumphantly. “I knew it!”

But don’t you be fooled: With Two Pianos, Four Hands, the musicians and the music are absolutely real, and the comedy thoroughly engaging.

Definitely an evening well spent.

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