BWW Review: 2 PIANOS 4 HANDS is Fun Cabaret Fare at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater
This is a show for the dream-chasers who almost made it. A show for pianists and piano appreciators - people who took lessons once upon a time and folks who get a kick out of classical composers. It's also a show for fans of the Milwaukee Rep's cabaret, as 2 Pianos 4 Hands embodies the standard Stackner fare: easy and funny, full of mighty talent and light on emotional upsets.
Written by Canadian playwrights Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra, the play first premiered in 1996 in Toronto to rave reviews and sold-out houses. Since then, it's played Off Broadway, at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, in London's West End, and around the world - more than 4,000 performances throughout Canada, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Austria, Finland, and more. 2 Pianos 4 Hands is one of the most-successful Canadian plays of all time, and now the Rep is bringing it to Milwaukee through November 3, 2019.
The show follows two young boys, Ted and Richard, on their journey of playing, practicing, and professionally pursuing the piano from the tender age of about six up to present day. At the reins are Joe Kinosian, a Milwaukee native and graduate of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, as Ted and Ben Moss as Richard. Each actor not only plays the piano, but also a string of supporting characters from oddball teachers to overbearing parents to competition and conservatory judges.
Kinosian, formerly seen at the Stackner in Murder for Two, is downright hilarious when given the chance, though the script for 2 Pianos isn't as outlandishly funny as Murder was. Moss moves easily between characters, too, his piano-playing serenely smooth throughout. It's amazing what personality these two pianists bring to the keys. Who knew scales could be so thrilling!
The tone of 2 Pianos 4 Hands is perfectly suited to the cabaret. Though there are a few stinging moments of parent-child and teacher-student relationships, the show largely steers clear of emotional baggage. Rather, it's just plain fun. 2 Pianos is especially entertaining if you find yourself easily mesmerized by professional musicians - in this case, seeing their fingers fly across the keys in such an up-close and intimate setting as the Stackner.
One might also argue that 2 Pianos 4 Hands is actually a classical piano concert under the guise of a lighthearted romp. To name a few of the composers on display, there's Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Schubert - and the Liszt goes on. An evening spent in the presence of these composers and their works will leave you in awe that anyone could put these complex notes together to create music. Yes, 2 Pianos makes classical music cool and keeps it relevant for today's audiences.
The play is also a crash course in playing and reading music. The audience is thrown into the deep-end alongside Ted and Richard as they learn major vs. minor, flats, sharps, eighths, arpeggios, time-keeping, and dozens more. It's enough to make your head spin - and enough to make people who gave up on their piano lessons wish they'd stuck with it. I imagine 2 Pianos would be even more fun for someone who can currently play.
In the end, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a love letter to the play's titular instrument. It celebrates the classical composers and teachers who inspire, the parents who encourage, and especially the kids who put in the work, sacrifice their time, chase that dream, and may or may not achieve it. Classical pianists, as one of Richard's monologues points out, sit outside of the mainstream nowadays. 2 Pianos serves to bring these works and this skill set back into theaters worldwide in a celebration of the piano and the many hands who make it great.
Photo credit: Michael Brosilow