Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

2 Pianos 4 Hands
Phoenix Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of A Thousand Cranes, King Lear, Debbie Does Dallas, 42nd Street, Joseph..., Shifting Gears

Michael Kary and Mark Anders
"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." That classic joke instantly comes to mind when watching the play 2 Pianos 4 Hands, which is receiving an impressive production from Phoenix Theatre. It is the story of two classically trained pianists, from their first introduction to the piano at a very young age, through their constant, endless and repetitive piano lessons they endure as they strive to become better musicians. While the two may not ever be good enough to make it to Carnegie Hall, the actors Mark Anders and Michael Kary are exceptional in bringing this story of the drive for success to life.

2 Pianos 4 Hands has been a powerhouse in Canada where it was created by, and originally starred, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt. Based on their own experiences growing up, the show premiered in Toronto in 1996, toured extensively across Canada, and has now played globally, including runs in New York and London, with close to 4,000 performances. It won the Dora Award (the Canadian equivalent of the Tony) and is one of the longest running shows in that country.

It's easy to see why the show is so successful. It is a funny and touching coming of age story about two musicians as they practice and compete to become the best they can be. The level of commitment they have (as well as the actors who play them) and the obstacles they encounter along the way, are relevant issues for anyone who studies and strives to be the best they can be yet has been told they may not be quite good enough to make it.

But the play is also for anyone who likes to dream—and who doesn't? As it isn't just about the continual music lessons the two characters suffer through but also the aspirational hope they both have to succeed. The play follows the two men up to the point when they have to face reality and decide whether to continue to work toward becoming classical pianists or, fearing they may not have what it takes, do something else with their lives. It is an easily relatable and enjoyable tale of dedication and pure talent and what one must do to succeed.

What also makes 2 Pianos 4 Hands so entertaining is the witty way the two actors portray a multitude of characters. From overbearing parents to crazed instructors, Anders and Kary play them all, often switching from one character to another almost instantaneously. They are both talented actors and comics, using childlike voices while portraying the main roles at various ages of adolescence and a range of accents to depict the adult characters, including both males and females.

Anders and Kary not only have to be skilled comedians but also efficient pianists, and the two succeed here as well. The show features a wide range of music styles from "Chopsticks" to classical music, a touch of jazz, and even some Billy Joel.

This production is skillfully directed by Bruce K. Sevy and, while both he and Anders have experience with this show in the past, this is Kary's first time playing the part. But you'd never guess. Creative elements are impressive with Joel Birch's set design (based on Scott Weldin's original concept) resembling a small, elegant recital hall and Don Darnutzer's lighting bright and colorful, yet also expertly highlighting the many solo moments in the show.

There are triumphs and tortures in just about every profession. 2 Pianos 4 Hands finds a perfect way to demonstrate how the experiences and setbacks that these two men go through can relate to anyone. With an exceptional cast and sure-footed direction, the Phoenix Theatre production of this musical is a funny, charming, witty and heartwarming tale about being passionate about something and doing what you have to do to excel at it, while knowing what to do when you learn what your limitations are.

2 Pianos 4 Hands runs through February 1, 2015, at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 254-2151

Director: Bruce Sevy
Original Scenic Concept: Scott Weldin
Set Designer: Joel Birch
Resident Dramaturge: Pasha Yamotahari
Sound Designer: Marie Quinn
Lighting Designer: Don Darnutzer
Resident Props Designer: Katie McNamara
Director of Production: Mark Reynolds
Production Stage Manager: Sam Monson*
Stage Manager: Michelle Elias*

Mark Anders and Michael Kary

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.

Photo: Phoenix Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix