Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) 2 Pianos, 4 Hands

Consummate Performers Weather a Storm
Greenblatt and Dykstra show why their work lives on
by Jim Murchison

Last night 800 or 900 people braved the stormy weather and shunned Friday the 13th superstition to add themselves to the estimated two million people that have been swept away by the theatrical, musical marvel known as 2 Pianos 4 Hands. In addition to the NAC's mandate to create original productions with it's resident ensemble, it is equally committed to showcasing the greatest plays that Canada has produced. Peter Hinton expressed this as more than mere commitment but something that the NAC embraces, and added his personal feeling of pride that Ottawa and specifically the NAC would be included in this, their final tour.  

So an equal amount of praise is due to the writers ... Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt are consumate performers, both as musicians and as actors and that is greatly responsible for the success of this production. There have been other productions well received with different players, so of course not all of the praise belongs to the performers. For a play to have lasted this long; to have received praise at The Kennedy Centre, in London's west end, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa the writing and the direction also have to be solid. So an equal amount of praise is due to the writers ... Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt. Pace and timing and ensuring that scenes are done in the right emotional key, as well as being musically on key requires a deft touch from an impartial eye, the directors... Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt. Hmmmm, my writing is getting repetetive. Maybe I need to go back to school. 
In fact, I believe the universal appeal of 2 Pianos 4  Hands is  because of people's  connection  to teachers and learning and striving to improve. The moments that offer the most poignance  and humour are when there is that connection to a new discovery or the struggling to find it. Self doubt, frustration, agony and satisfaction are the emotional chords that cement the story to the musical themes. You don't need to be versant in the library of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg or Liszt. In addition to the classical music, we are also treated to a modern medley including music from Rogers and Hart, Scott Joplin, Elton John, John Lennon, Billy Joel and others. It doesn't hurt to have taken music lessons but it isn't necessary. You only need to have loved one teacher, to have felt the pain of disapproval or failure for this play to hit the right note. In the final analysis, it is our personal journey that shapes  who we become and our appreciation for what is beautiful.  

As much as this is  the brainchild of the performers the simple design of two screens and two pianos and clever lighting that supports the characters is the work of production designer, Peter Lucas. To make sure that all the elements and the cues move at the right tempo is the responsibility of original stage manager Beatrice Campbell proudly finishing what she helped get started. The performers also acknowledge the original  input and support of dramaturge Urjo Kareda and consulting director Andy McKim. The play is dedicated to piano teachers Dr. Lillian Upright and the late professor Dorothy Morton. 

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt may perform the piece again as a fund raiser or a special performance and there will likely be other constructions of the play with different performers, but make no mistake, this is the original and we are very honoured to be included in the farewell tour of a theatrical gem performed by its creators.   

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