Regional Reviews: San Francisco
2 Pianos, 4 Hands, an Engaging Production
I am not sure if this is regional theater but since the American Conservatory Theatre is presenting this as part of their season, I suppose I can bend the rules a little with this review.
The production focuses on two classical pianists who grew up in Montreal. The characters had great potential when they were young. They meet as two men in their 30s and reminisce. They recall and take on the parts of tough teachers, then parents who encourage and then discouraged them. They meet other characters along the way, such as other students and a variety of idiosyncratic teachers. They take on the roles of imposing conservatory examiners with an easy flair. The production is a 90 minute one act and it exerts charm. You see as the production progresses that each of the two pianists is made aware how his musical skills fall short of their concert aspirations.
There are some wonderful scenes involving some marvelous characters: the Italian teacher who is always laying down on the stage because of a back problem, the French teacher who compares technique to making love to a woman. There is a wonderful scene in which one of the pianist is playing in a piano bar when an obnoxious drunk insist that he play Billy Joel's "Piano Man" even though he has just played the piece. It is a remarkable scene. Another great scene is when one of the pianist is trying to get into the jazz academy by playing an overly decorated "My Funny Valentine". The jazz teacher looks at him in disgust after the piece has finish and says he has technique but no soul. Thoughout the play we get snatches of practice pieces, and the music Mozart, Chopin, Bach and some contemporary American composers. I think one of the funniest scenes is when one of the pianist is taking an entrance exam into the music academy in Montreal. He is asked to name a composer from each of the countries the instructor gives him. For example: Germany, Bach; Austria, Brahms and Mozart; England Handel and so forth. The instructor then says Canada. The pianist is at a loss to name a composer.
One can tell the difference in the piano playing by these two actor pianists when we hear a brief recorded bit of Horowitz's rendition of Liszt's "Mephisto Waltz" at Carnegie Hall. There is classical piano playing at its greatest. The actors realize that they will never be a Horowitz. However they end the 90 minute piece with a four handed Bach piece that is splendid. They also come back for an encore by saying that they are Canadians playing an American piece based on the Canadian flag (Scott Joplin's "Maple Leave Rag"). Superb encore.
The two actors are Canadian actors Jean Marchand and Gregory Charles. They have been touring for more than a year in the French language version of this show. This marked the first time they performed the play in English. Mr. Marchand is French-Canadian and he has just a slight accent while Mr. Charles is an African-Canadian. Mr. Marchand is the more seasoned and accomplished actor of the two while Mr. Charles has had more of a career as a musician and radio and TV host in Canada. The production runs to March 19. The World Premier of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth"opens on March 24.
The New Conservatory Theatre has inaugurated their "in concert" musical season with a revival of the 1975 off Broadway hit Boy Meets Boy. This Billy Solly and Donald Ward musical lovingly recreates the era of black and white movies musicals with witty lyrics and charming melodies by Billy Solly. The book by Donald Ward is full of humor and with. The musical first opened at the Actor's Playhouse in New York in September 1975 and had a successful run in that city. Actually it was one of the first musicals that had a gay theme. It had a very successful run here in Los Angeles and here in San Francisco.
Alan Rich of the New York Times said of the musical when it first opened, "An uncommonly light and antic touch. The first of its kind that could happily play in an old ladies home in Dubuque. Quite honorably delightful."
. The plot sounds like an old RKO black and white musical. It opens with Casey O'Brien, a world famous reporter, giving a party at the Savoy Hotel in London on December 11, 1936. This is the eve of the abdication of King Edward VIII. The next day Clarence, a preening groom, is jilted at the altar by the mysterious Guy Rose. Rival reporters, who have never seen Rose, convince Casey that Guy, nicknamed the English Rose, is charming and good looking. Smitten, he vows to find the English Rose.
The real Guy Rose, a plain, bespectacled young man, falls for Casey and, failing to convince him that he is indeed the glamorous Rose, pledges to help Casey in his search. A love triangle, mistaken identify, and a pursuit to Paris follow. Boy Meets Boy ends happily with newspaper headlines proclaiming two major June weddings: "Duke Marries Mrs. Simpson and O'Brien Marries English Rose"
The small cast came out in evening clothes that looked like there were from the 30s. Each carried a script in their hands but frankly I don't think they needed them. The actors knew most of the dialogue and had little use for these books. It was a remarkable assemble with skillful voices and superior acting for a musical based in the 30s. All have good background in Bay Area Theatre.
Paul Araquistain was in the role of the energetic reporter Casey O'Brien. He is perfect for the role and he has a voice to match. Very controlled, and he played the role straight. The English Rose and Guy Rose were played by a newcomer recently arrived here from performing theater in Tennessee. He has a voice that you rarely hear now a days. It was a helden tenor, almost a near a falsetto voice. He spoke like Daniel Massey when in conversation. Interesting to say the lease. A very tall actor with blond curly hair. I will say he was striking in appearance and he played the both Roses well.
Clarence was played by 42nd Street Moon veteran Stephen Pawley who is always an assent to any production. He played the role of the preening groom with just the right amount of camp. It was not too much and not too little, just enough camp to make it interesting. One of the surprises in the production was Tom Elliott who is also a staple at 42nd Street Moon Production where he is given very little to do. Here he comes into his own particularly in the second act where he played a effeminate Spanish dancer. He was hilarious in the role.
Gary Wayne Farris' English accent kept slipping, but he has a powerful voice and he shined in the song "Giving It Up for Love". There were three women in the production and all were superior in voice and acting. One of the best things I like about this production was that they did not shout their words as if they were in a large auditorium. They kept the voices just right for the small theater. All in all this musical is done with wit, charm and a lot of tongue in cheek. Next up will be Sondheim's Side by Side .