BWW Reviews: 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS Is, in a Word, Brilliant!
Portland Stage Company concludes their 2011-12 season with a hilarious, heartwarming production about two pianists and their (mis)adventures en route to becoming musical masters of the 88 piano keys.
Written by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a laugh-out-loud concert starring the multi-talented and brilliant musicianship of Tom Frey (Ted) and Jeffrey Rockwell (Richard) who share musical aspirations, challenges, rejection and jubilation that holds your attention like super glue.
To even consider producing this play, one must have 2 actors (or actresses) who can act, move, do improvisation and physical comedy and have a high level of musicianship. Frey and Rockwell are the perfect piano duo who give Broadway-like performances, their comedy perfectly timed like a metronome. Each actor excels emotionally, physically and musically as they portray a colorful cast of characters from their past. Their unspoken moments are hilarious one moment, heartwarming or dramatic the next. Frey and Rockwell, like the great comedy teams before them, compliment each other in everything they do- sharing the moments and supporting each other throughout.
Highlights include a performance of Mozart's Sonata For One Piano, Four Hands in D Major, 1st Movement; the dueling pianos in act two and 2 scenes of rejection and realization that ripped at the heart.
Frey and Rockwell's characters conclude that perhaps they are not two of the best piano players in the world or even the country, but they are at least two of the best in the neighborhood and bring the audience to their feet with Bach's Ceoncerto in D Minor, 1st Movement.
The script is cleverly crafted by Dykstra and Greenblatt and beautifully directed by Frey, who had logged over 650 performances as an actor (both roles) in this show. The staging is seamless and keeps your focus fixed on the big picture to the smallest detail. Frey's direction is never forced, but natural and creative. He knows how to let the audience laugh one moment, breathe another and reflect the next. Like any good musical piece, Frey buttons each vignette perfectly.
Anita Stewart, set designer, gives us an elegant yet simple and balanced set with its large windows and framework of gold leaf color and black draperies. Two grand pianos donated by Starbird Music and Piano Gallery were prominently placed. Lighting designer, Gregg Carville, creates the best lighting of the season. His use of gobos, gel color, shadows and focus enhances every moment of the show. Carville's design should be a teaching tool of how lighting can make or break a performed moment, a scene or the play itself. Concert attire by Susan Thomas is appropriate and works well. Shane Van Vliet, yet again, stage manages a flawless show onstage and backstage.
Portland Stage Company has, in my opinion, saved the best show for last. Rather you're a lover of great theater or a Mozart wanna-be who spent endless hours tickling the ivories as you practiced the pages of your piano primer, this show is for you. For anyone who has ever dreamed the dream or survived the stress and anxiety that being good or being great at something can create, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a must see.
Congratulations to Portland Stage Company for a fantastic season of professional theater made in Maine. I look forward to the 2012/2013 season which includes The Sisters Rosensweig, Homestead Crossing, Greater Tuna, A Song At Twilight, Love/Sick, and Wittenberg.
2 Pianos 4 Hands continues through July 1 at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Avenue, Portland, ME. For tickets or more information, call (207) 774-0465 or go to www.portlandstage.org.
Pictured: Ted (Tom Frey) and Richard (Jeffrey Rockwell) are overwhelmed by their piano competition in Portland Stage Company's production of 2 Pianos 4 Hands. Photo by Darren Setlow.