By Pat Craig

Contra Costa Times

Center Repertory Company's "2 Pianos 4 Hands" is one of the happiest ways to spend 90 minutes, even if you're not a fan of classical piano music or those who play it. A fast 30 seconds into the show currently playing at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center and you'll be ready to sign up as a lifelong pal of the classical keyboards and the fictionalized autobiographies of Canadians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt (played here by Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielsen).

Even if you'd be hard-pressed to plunk out "Chopsticks" or "Heart and Soul" on a keyboard, you'll find yourself caught up in the tale of two boys who grow into their late teens lusting for the chance to become part of the handful of world-class classical pianists. That they don't make it just gives this joyous story even more poignancy and gives their audience new appreciation for that territory just below win, place and show. At the start, Ted and Richard are just two boys who take piano lessons, at their parents' behest more than anything else. There is nothing special about them, but after they have a few recitals under their belts (though they still bristle at practicing), their parents already realize their youngsters have talent.

align="justify">Their story is both wonderfully touching and filled with beautifully played music - in addition to being fine actors, both Anders and Danielsen are excellent pianists as they move into the talented young lives of Dykstra and Greenblatt. Some years pass in the story before the boys realize there is, indeed, something special about their playing. Suddenly, practice becomes an addiction and the urge to be the best is a passion. But unlike the major leaguers, movie stars and rarefied few in any field who make it to the stratosphere, Ted and Richard don't quite make it, and their passion is buried beneath an avalanche of what if and if only.

They crash to earth in a society where ordinary starts right after gold, and runner-up is a painful obscenity. And, like so many others, they simply deal with it, uneasily settling to be best on the block, or something like that, and learning to be satisfied basking in the praise of friends and family. And that perhaps is what makes this story, directed by Bruce K. Sevy, so captivating. It provides such a fresh look at the nature of success, particularly artistic success. As you watch the story of these two young men unfold, it becomes tempting to use their story to explain why so many people follow their passions for art, athletics or other endeavors well beyond a time when they have any realistic hope of blasting themselves into any sort of rarefied air.

By Leeanne Jones

Diablo Publications

I play piano. I can stumble through a duet of “Heart and Soul,” name the notes of the treble and bass clefs, and pluck out a sparse rendition of the Jeopardy theme. Okay, okay, maybe I won’t become a concert pianist anytime soon…

But the stars of Center REP’s play 2 Pianos, 4 Hands really can tickle the ivories. Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielsen breeze through Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin as they portray two musical prodigies from childhood to adulthood—as well as all their parents, teachers, and friends. The two actor-musicians are wildly talented, moving gracefully from physical comedy to piano concertos, from distracted seven-year-olds to quirky instructors.

The main characters, Richard (played by Danielsen) and Ted (played by Anders), are actually fictionalized versions of the show’s co-authors: Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra. The two grew up as musical prodigies and pursued careers in show business, where they met and compared notes on their piano student days. Those experiences became 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, which debuted in Toronto in 1994 and has become one of Canada’s most successful theater productions with more than 5,000 performances to date.

As ever-piano-practicing youth, Ted learns to count time using dollars and bits, and Richard tries to master correct fingering—his hands flopping all over the keys. They come together for a duet that quickly dissolves into hilarious competitiveness, with Ted demanding extra time to turn pages of sheet music and Richard playing practical jokes with the piano bench.

For both characters, adolescence brings concerns about balanced social lives and expanding musical interests (insert Elton John melody here). And with adulthood comes the big question: stick with the dream of a piano career, or leave it.

Anyone who has taken music lessons will love 2 Pianos, 4 Hands, but its appeal is so much more broad. Through music and comedy, the play explores universal themes of dreams, regret, and parent-child relationships. And as giggling young audience members on opening night prove, it’s a production for the whole family.