It was only by giving up completely on their dream that Canadians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt finally found international success.
The creators and performers of the Off-Broadway musical Two Pianos, Four Hands remain passionate musicians, and they love to caress those ivories.
"Both of us trained to age 17 as classical pianists--," said Greenblatt.
"--and both of us quit," said Dykstra.
"You get to a level where it's just not about talent anymore," Greenblatt resumed. "A solo career in classical music is extremely rare." "How many [solo musicians] can fill Carnegie Hall?" said Dykstra, picking up the thread. "A couple dozen, maybe."
Their show celebrates, not the Rubinsteins and Goulds of the world, but the people, like them, who try with varying degrees of success to achieve the dream of being great classical soloists, but the reach of whose talent exceeds their grasp. And the Two Pianos duo do it with a sympathetic sense of humor.
The two men embody some two dozen characters over the course ofTwo Pianos, Four Hands, which is played like a collection of short stories -- variations on a theme. There's the star pupil who freezes up on the day of the big competition, the teacher who struggles to explain musical beats to a student by breaking down a bar of music like making change for a dollar. A lonely housewife finds refuge in music lessons, not to play, but to unburden her soul. A drunk in a piano bar requests Billy Joel's "Piano Man" over and over, bellowing lines from the song like his own personal monologue: "Hey Davey, you still in the Navy?"
"A lot of it is based on personal experience," Greenblatt said.
Contrary to the many plays and musicals that exhort you to hang onto your dream, Greenblatt and Dykstra say that once your dream becomes an anvil dragging you down, it's time to get a better dream.
It was a lesson each of them learned when they realized that the alternatives to being a solo star was being a teacher or rehearsal pianist. They wanted something more. So the Montreal-born Greenblatt and the Edmonton-bred Dykstra made the same decision independently: head to Toronto and get into performing as they could. They met at Tarragon Theatre there in 1992 while performing in a children's play called So You Think You're Mozart. Dykstra played a recalcitrant piano student and Greenblatt embodied the spirit of Mozart.
It was over glasses of Creemore, a potent local beer, that the two began trading stories with Tarragon associate artistic director Andy Kim whom they credit with uttering the fateful words: "Maybe there's a show there."
The resulting Two Pianos, Four Hands went on an acclaimed 10-city tour of Canada, and now is being prepared -- with other performers in their roles -- for Washington DC and countries beyond North America. Clearly, a nerve has been hit.
"It's about coming to terms with the dreams you had a one time," Dykstra said. "And realizing the gold-platter scenario may not happen -- but you're still you. We get letters every day from people who talk about themselves: 'I'm a lawyer and that's exactly how I feel about the whole game'."
"It heals them from a traumatic experience," said Greenblatt. "We like celebrating who you really are and where you are in the world."
Now that they're getting the kind of international recognition they gave up on -- are they ever tempted to try to book themselves into, oh, say, Carnegie Hall?
"No!" said Greenblatt.
"No chance," said Dykstra.
"At the end of the show we figure out who we really are, said Greenblatt: We're pretty good actors who play piano. That's what we do. And we're the best in the world at what we do."
-- By Robert Viagas