Before computer nerds, there were piano nerds.
Richard Greenblatt and Ted Dykstra can hear them in the audience at "2 Pianos, 4 Hands," a comedy about people who take piano lessons but never become pianists.
Greenblatt and Dykstra wrote the show currently playing off-Broadway at the Promenade Theatre. They also are the cast.
When a piano teacher (Dykstra) tells his student (Greenblatt), "The special key I've chosen today is C sharp," murmurs ripple through the audience. Dykstra and Greenblatt know there are ticket holders who spent many hours facing a piano keyboard. Some tell them their show has healed longtime wounds.
Dykstra told of one young woman who had taken classical and jazz lessons for 18 years but couldn't make a living at the piano. "After seeing the show," he says, "she realized that just having what she has is enough. She can still play."
"And we're still very competent piano players who can touch people with music - and make them laugh. There's nothing wrong with that. The fact we didn't make it in music is not a tragedy. This show is a celebration."
"As a society, we tend to believe the only ones worthy of practicing art are the greats," Greenblatt says. "I don't believe that. This show celebrates who we are."
The men met in Toronto's theater community, where Greenblatt had been directing and acting and Dykstra had worked in Shakespearean productions and a TV sitcom.
They were among a dozen Canadian actors who play piano. When they were hired in 1992 for "So You Think You're Mozart," a concert for children, they discovered they had similarly rigorous classical-music backgrounds.
In developing their own show, "We thought of a lot of dramatically rich situations," Dykstra says, "with father-son confrontations, piano exams - which we have in Canada - resolving our own feelings about having stopped playing, what classical music means to us today, and the reverence we have for great composers and great players."
So they created "2 Pianos, 4 Hands," which takes them from playing tunes for tots to a story of the late teens, when decisions must be made about pursuing concert careers.
Dykstra is happy when he hears the audience talking about parent-child conflicts they've lived through, skills they've learned, and disappointments and triumphs.
"It means we've done more than entertain them," he says. "We've made them think about their own lives."