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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, January 13, 2000


‘2 Pianos, 4 Hands’
delivers comic look at
music and memories


By Tim Ryan


EVERYONE who's ever struggled to master any kind of skill will recognize themselves in "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" opening Tuesday at Hawaii Theatre.

But it's pianists and the parents of pianists who will find a special connection in this stage presentation created by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt.

Embellishing freely on their own musical backgrounds, Dykstra and Greenblatt created a whole universe of personalities enacting familiar situations: the frustrated could-have-been parent angry with the bored child, the macho teacher impressing the pubescent youth, the quarreling piano duo, one of whom, on stage, becomes too terrified to play. Interestingly, it's the painful truths of these situations that energize the high humor.


Bullet What: "2 Pianos, 4 Hands," featuring Shari Saunders and Karen Woolridge
Bullet When: Opens Tuesday. Shows are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Jan. 22; 2 p.m. Jan. 22 and 23; and 7 p.m. Jan. 23.
Bullet Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St.
Bullet Tickets: $15 to $39 at the Hawaii Theatre box office, all military and TicketPlus outlets
Bullet Charge by phone: 528-0506 or 526-4400

"2 Pianos, 4 Hands, simply put, is a comic and warm account of how young talent is nurtured. The show has played to sell-out crowds across the country, seeming to prove its universal appeal.

"What makes this show so winning is that it speaks to anyone who has ever tried to play an instrument, master a sport or learn a new language," said Shari Saunders who shares the stage with Karen Woolridge in the roles created by Dykstra and Greenblatt. "The show recalls the joys and frustrations of learning to play the piano, but any skill really."

As Saunders and Woolridge confront the limitations of their own ambitions and talents in the 90-minute show, the women strike a chord with the audience.

"Making music is more than just a matter of hitting the right notes. Sometimes it's a lesson in life, too," said Saunders. "Eventually you realize that despite the huge expenditure of time and effort, the moment may arrive when you know that your cherished dream just isn't going to come true. Coming to terms with that painful shock could be one of our most shared human experiences."

For millions of middle-class baby boomers who were forced each day to study a musical instrument -- often with marginal success -- the words "music lessons" call up memories of forced labor and underachievement. "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" details some of that trauma: the hours of practice; the impenetrable mysteries of music theory; the embarrassments that inevitably occur at recitals.

"When I first saw the show in '96 with my mother we were jabbing ourselves in the ribs all the way throughout, saying that was just like us," Woolridge said. "The show makes clear that students who actually possess talent may have it even worse. They have to worry about competition and the possibility that they may never attain concert-performer status."

The stage is dominated by the two pianos while the actors act out the stories of their lives in music, weaving vignettes around a musical program that takes in Bach's D-minor Concerto, Beethoven's Sonatina No. 6 in F major, and Mozart's Sonata Facile in C major, with generous helpings of Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart and Soul" and Billy Joel's "Piano Man." The pianists-turned-actors also impersonate a parade of parents, teachers, rivals and many others.

Dykstra and Greenblatt already were accomplished actors in their native Canada before "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" won a slew of Dora Mavor Awards, Toronto's equivalent to the Tony. The pianists had known each other 15 years, but the seeds for the show were planted in the early 1990s, when both appeared in a children's play entitled "So You Think You're Mozart."

The pair began quizzing each other about their musical pasts and discovered how much they had in common, deciding a show was in these shared experiences.

"The piano is a metaphor," Woolridge said. "A lot of people don't play any piano and they talk about what it was like for them as a tennis player, or a lawyer, or whatever. At what point do you realize that you're not going to become President of the United States?

"The show is about growing up and finding something that you do like and do well and you realize you don't have to be the best to derive pleasure from it."

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