Sunday, October 19, 2014

2 Pianos 4 Hands Bach-to-Bach @ Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre

Reviewed 18 October, 2014 by Robert Roll

2 Pianos 4 Hands: a play with music, or a piano concert with a light comedy narrative, earned a Canadian Tony Award in 1996 when authors Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt projected the A Chorus Line treatment onto the rarified world of classical concert piano.  Here is a concept that will either hook you right away, or give you pause.

As the characters Rick and Ted develop from squirmy kid prodigies into master pianists, their stories are embroidered not with poppy “I Hope I Get It” show tunes, but with the music of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and a half-dozen other masters of classical music.  When you talk about an all-star score, this show has it in spades.

Christopher Tocco and Thomas Frey 
PHOTO CREDIT: Suellen Fitzimmons and Stratton McCrady

The current program’s fulsome and technically flawless musical performances alone make the show worth attending. In the four very capable hands of Thomas Frey and Christopher Tocco, the Rubicon Theatre Company offers an elevating musical evening of piano virtuosity and colorful character study.  

What’s really fun about this two-man cast is the effortlessness with which they hand off to each other both musically and dramatically in the roles of secondary foils to the main characters they play— seamlessly finishing each other’s thoughts both at the keyboard and in the storyline.

If you have ever been the beneficiary—or victim—of early-life musical training, 2 Pianos will strike a diminished G 7th chord in you.  Whether your childhood direction ran to youth soccer, math jams or any other parental-compulsive activity, the themes in this play ring equally true.

The show presents a story of two polite Canadian kids run through the wringer of competitive art at an early age.  They bridle at having to practice long hours, attend endless local competitions, and struggle to find their true selves while facing a blizzard of conflicting instructors, judges and well-meaning relatives.

Once the polite Canadian kids grow into polite Canadian piano virtuosos, they begin to discover enough about themselves to decide whether they may be great, or quite good, or good enough to ultimately be themselves.

With A Chorus Line, the producers had a certain latitude in casting great actors who could “dance a little”.  Any casting choices for 2 Pianos 4 Hands must place superb keyboard skills as foremost.  Frey and Tocco fill the musical bill handsomely, their skills with the light comedy and character changes are more than sufficient to round out a diverting evening.  Thomas Frey’s direction places musical performance exactly where it belongs, front and center. Past visitors to the Rubicon know that its converted 1920’s church with fewer than 200 seats is a more intimate venue than the grand concert hall the play might suggest, but Scenic Designer and Lighting Designer Steve Lucas crafts a setting exactly as advertised: 2 Pianos, elegantly framed, with a few stagecraft surprises that delight, never detract. 2 Pianos 4 Hands is a scintillating presentation in a jewel box setting.

2 Pianos 4 Hands Bach-to-Bach by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt
Rubicon Theatre
1006 East Main Street
Ventura, CA  93001
Wednesdays at 2 pm and 7pm
Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm
Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm
Sundays at 2 pm
Through November 16, 2014
Tickets:  $35 - $59
$20/students (under age 22 with valid student ID)

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