Chopin and comedy mix in Hipp two-man play

'2 Pianos, 4 Hands' and two old friends


Tom Frey, right, and Richard Todd Adams star in "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" at the Hippodrome.

DAVID MASSEY/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 9:38 p.m.

Facts

IF YOU GO "2 Pianos, 4 Hands" WHAT: Musical-comedy about two fame-seeking pianists
WHERE: Hippodrome State Theatre, 25 SE 2nd Place
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Jan. 30. Performances: 8:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays
TICKETS: $14-$27. Student tickets start at $5.
PREVIEW: 8:15 tonight (352-375-4477)

For the first few minutes of "2 Pianos, 4 Hands," there is no music or dialogue, only the fine-tuned trappings of simple comedy - eyes rolled, throats cleared and exasperated sighs leaked with stealth precision.
For nearly five minutes, the two-man cast fritters around two grand pianos. These are two old friends playing two old friends, and their unspoken schtick stands in stark contrast to the moment when - finally - four hands pounce on two pianos.
The result is a thundering Bach concerto, which evolves into dueling scales that set a comic, competitive tone for this, ah ... for this ...
Well, just what do you call the Hippodrome State Theatre's latest offering? A comedy? Certainly, but that barely cracks this egg. A classical concert? Ditto on the egg thing.
A biography? Perhaps. It's a musical-comedy-biography laced with Bach, Chopin and even Billy Joel, a fast-paced romp that follows the lives of two characters named Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, the very same names of the show's creators.
Certainly, there are shades of Dykstra and Greenblatt in "2 Pianos, 4 Hands," but this is more of a collective portrait of humans bewitched by the arts. In short, it is a biography of us.
Opening Friday, the play follows fame-seeking Ted and Richard from wee lads plucking out scales to baggage-heavy adults trying to perfect the craft.
"I think the script is just a lot of fun. And I think there's some identification there, especially among those in the arts," said Director Mary Hausch. "I laughed out loud when I read it."
Cast members Tom Frey and Richard Todd Adams have performed this show more than 200 times over the years - mostly together. They are two professional performers who fit a very elite casting bill: comedic actors who also happen to be seasoned pianists.
Dykstra and Greenblatt created the show in the mid-1990s and starred as themselves as it left Canada for worldwide tours. Frey and Adams are among 16 professional performers who regularly star in the productions, said Mary Hausch.
They last performed this work together in a run that started in late 2002 in Minnesota. Frey started with the production first. It was a daunting task, he recalled, as he had suffered "a bad break-up with the piano" years earlier.
The creators cast him as an understudy for a tour, allowing time for the actor to reconcile with the piano and then sharpen his chops. Eventually, he found himself as the Greenblatt character.
Then, just as Frey was becoming more comfortable playing piano in front of an audience, his partner playing Dykstra decided to leave the show to attend seminary. Enter Adams, an actor with degrees in voice who also played classical piano.
"There was just an immediate connection," Adams recalled. In fact, Adams agreed to do the show at the Hippodrome only if Frey performed with him.
But, in Gainesville, there is one major difference: For the first time, they have swapped roles. Frey now plays the Dykstra role (and all the secondary parts that accompany it), and Adams now plays the Greenblatt spectrum.
It's no easy swap, mind you. Sure, these guys know this show like the backs of their ivory-tickling hands, but switching means learning different lines and different piano parts.
Why the switch? For one, Dykstra once nurtured Frey as his understudy, and Frey has been hooked on the part since. But, Frey will also tell you in the spirit of old friends teasing old friends: "We got tired of each other doing it wrong."
Cast members Tom Frey and Richard Todd Adams are two professional performers who fit a very elite casting bill: comedic actors who also happen to be seasoned pianists.

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