'2 Pianos 4 Hands' is satisfying

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True story: A stranger stopped me Downtown to ask, "How do I get to Heinz Hall?"

Of course, I replied, "Practice."

At its basic level. "2 Pianos 4 Hands" is about practice -- at music, at sports, public speaking, puff-pastry making, any endeavor -- and how it plays a significant role in success or failure. Ted and Richard, maneuvering two massive shiny black grand pianos on the City Theatre stage, grow in two acts from 10-year-old kids resisting the routine of music lessons to fine adult piano players.

They persevere through a succession of teachers, parents, competitions and auditions accompanying each other with beautiful classical music pieces and lots of pop stuff as well. The play requires a pair of accomplished actors who are also masters of the keyboard, adept at composers from Bach to Billy Joel (of course, "Piano Man" would make it in there) with even a bit of Fred Rogers thrown in for the locals.

Bob Stillman (Ted) and Christopher Tocco (Richard) are a tireless, talented duo who move effortlessly from the basics of musical scales to the fiendishly difficult Concerto in D Minor by Bach as musicians and as actors through a variety of roles including an abusive drunk at the piano bar to the ruthless admissions officer at a posh conservatory.

As Ted and Richard, their journeys follow a similar paths of highs and lows in the demanding world of classical musicians, a world where talent is half the requirement.

The other half is dedication to a brutal work ethic, as Ted learns to his sorrow. "2 Pianos 4 Hands" is an autobiographical work created by Canadians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt in 1996 to showcase their multiple talents. It's become, according to the City Theatre play program, Canada's largest export, outside of hockey and ice, reaching more than two million theatergoers. They've turned the roles over Messrs. Stillman and Tocco, accomplished performers themselves, and the direction to Tom Frey, a City Theatre returnee and a veteran of "2 Pianos 4 Hands."

The combination clicks as an engaging two hours of entertainment peppered with smart jokes -- Question: Name a Canadian composer? Answer: Paul Shaffer -- to a bittersweet story of hope versus reality.

"2 Pianos 4 Hands" is a satisfying holiday treat full of wonderful music and a compelling story that keeps audiences involved throughout.

Retired Post-Gazette Book Editor Bob Hoover reviews theater for the newspaper.


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