Effortless trio unlocks musical genius

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Ian von Memerty during a standing ovation-worthy performance
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Ian von Memerty during a standing ovation-worthy performance

A HANDFUL OF KEYS 20 THANNIVERSARY TOUR, starring Ian von Memerty and Roelof Colyn. (Boardwalk Amphitheatre in PE,tonight and tomorrow at 7.30pm and Sunday at 3pm; East London’s Guild Theatre from May 27 to 31 at 7.30pm). – Reviewed by Brett Adkins.

IT may have been around 20 years with a history as colourful and glittering as the sequined costumes paraded by its stars, but this veritable treasure chest of piano wizardry shines like a diamond through sheer polish and professionalism.

Take a moment just to consider one of the highlights of many gleaming gems on offer here – a History of the Broadway Musical in which Von Memerty and Colyn cover no fewer than an astonishing 143 hit stage shows dating back to the early 1900s in just 12 minutes on their back-to-back grand pianos.

That’s a musical trick – pulled off with velvety panache, soaring voices, deft finger-work and rib-tickling humour –- worthy of a Las Vegas billboard.

A Handful of Keys is in its 20thweek of a national tour to celebrate its 20thanniversary and although Von Memerty, who created the show with Bryan Schimmel back in 1994 with 11000 people enjoying 330 performances for the next three years, may have gained a tad around the midriff, it’s still a stylish and uber-cool showman who can strip down to his jocks while tickling the ivories.

That hilarious episode comes during Colyn’s rendition of Bare Necessities as the duo demonstrate the not so subtle do’s and don’ts of successful upstaging by an accompanist.

One of the key techniques to this marvellous format of entertainment is its seamless switch from one era or composer or theme or celebrity pianist to the next – they dovetail the genres perfectly and with a rapid-fire laugh-a-line script, it works like a dream.

For instance, after the ragtime medley introduction, we are taken on a superbly witty trip into the annals of musical history as the Beatles’ Yesterday is performed – with all the relevant manic mannerisms – in the style of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy and Bartok.

It is an absolute treat of piano-playing skill wrapped in finely-tuned observation.

Next come the ladies – from Nina Simone to Adele – and then the kings (and queens!) from Victor Borge and Richard Clayderman (a belly laugh of note!) to the over-the-top, inimitable antics of Elton John and Liberace. Unashamedly camp, yes, but unmistakably classy in its parody.

Believe me, no one is left out – and a South African medley which includes the Click Song, Pata Pata and Mama Tembu’s Wedding demonstrates without question that these “two white boys” know a thing or two about earthy African rhythms.

The current pool of the touring production is made up of three members – the third being Jonathan Roxmouth – and in different combinations of this “two men on two pianos for two hours” concept, they toured around the world from New York to Camps Bay between 2010 and 2013.

No wonder they know what they’re doing. Three standing ovations on one night is nothing to be shy about – but hey, these guys aren’t shy. They may have a handful of keys – but at the Boardwalk they also had an entire audience (from a six-year- old to eightysomethings) well clasped in those palms as well.

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