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Evans Haile and Andrew Gerle
Evans Haile (left) and Andrew Gerle star in the Cape Playhouse's production "2 Pianos, 4 Hands." (Katheleen A. Fahle)

Engaging '2 Pianos' plays to crowd

DENNIS -- This playful two-hander -- well, four, strictly speaking -- is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever battled, mano a mano, with a recalcitrant keyboard. Most of us first meet the adversary in childhood, with parents and teachers urging us to persevere and practice, practice, practice, even if Carnegie Hall isn't remotely in the offing.

"2 Pianos , 4 Hands" tracks the aspirations and achievements of two potential piano prodigies, Ted and Richard -- characters representing show originators Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, who concocted this delightful bagatelle at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre in 1996. The extended musical/dramatic duet, since shared with other performers, has played in more than 150 venues around the world, reaching some 2 million sets of ears.

You couldn't ask for a more engaging duo than the pair currently appearing at the Cape Playhouse: Evans Haile (a regular Pops guest artist who, come summer, serves as the Playhouse's artistic director) and his longtime piano partner Andrew Gerle (the Jonathan Larson Award-winning composer of the musical "Meet John Doe," set to premiere under the aegis of the Goodspeed Opera House next season). They're so in tune with each other, they can finish each other's phrases in every sense.

The music selections range from learners' chestnuts like "The Birch Canoe" to some major Chopin challenges, to which these two rise brilliantly. We first meet Ted (Haile) and Richard (Gerle) as boys plunking out arrhythmic tunes with stiff, splayed fingers. Every so often one will pop abruptly out of character to play teacher to the other: Instructors range from a bored, Boston-accented nun (whose idea of a lesson is a lie-down and a cup of tea) to an Italian maestro whose mispronunciation of "piece" -- as in "I want you to make me feel and taste and smell this piece" -- engenders some amusing double-entendres.

Apart from this little play on words, one mild expletive, and one instance of "fingering" not specified in any score, this show is thoroughly family-safe. Tweeners undergoing their own trial-by-music would probably identify with poor Ted and Richie.

As the two pianists-in-training learn the basics of timing and memorize the standard key-signature mnemonics, parents put in occasional appearances, too -- to insist on wresting that half-hour's penance ( a.k.a. practice) per day, or, later, once piano playing has become an obsession, to argue for a more "normal" life.

These two boys are seriously hooked, and each appears to have the wherewithal to make it to the top. Their escalating competition, on a regional level, makes for sharp comedy (a practice session for an upcoming duet, for instance, turns into the equivalent of a backseat brawl among siblings). It's all a laugh a minute -- until the musical world at large comes up with ever crueler tests.

The play's appeal isn't limited to musical wunderkinds, current and former. It's sure to touch anyone who dreamed big as a child, and that's pretty much all of us. "2 Pianos , 4 Hands" offers a chance to look back and laugh, and to remember that, ultimately, nothing learned is ever wasted.


2 Pianos, 4 Hands

Musical revue in two acts by Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt. Directed by : Tom Frey. Set, Richard Chambers. Lights, Christopher Chambers. At the Cape Playhouse, through June 30; 877-385-3911 or 508-385-3911.