Piano Men sparkles like the curtained-with-lights background of the small stage at Florida Studio Theater’s Goldstein Cabaret. Keyboarders John Grieco and Brian Walters team up to present the compositions and styles of key piano players of America’s 20th century. As performers, these may have played in venues from honky tonks to grand concert halls, but here the two energetic piano men play directly to the audience of a distinctly intimate cabaret.
The show begins with classical piano numbers by Liszt and Beethoven, then segues to Scott Joplin’s rags and numbers by the two Fats: Waller and Domino. John Grieco, the most physical of the FST duo, imitates the mad keyboard antics of Jerry Lee Lewis on “Great Balls of Fire.”
Brian Walters tends to be the main narrative introducer, as the show leads into works by Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Barry Manilow. These three dominate Act 2, though close to the opening number is a Liberace-style variation of Chopsticks made into “The Chop Waltz” by Mozart Allen.
Narratives of the lives and accomplishments of Wonder, Joel, Elton John, and Manilow are interspersed throughout the songs. Favorites include : “Uptown Girl,” “For Once in My Life,” “I Write the Songs,” “The Entertainer,” “Living for the City,” “Keeping the Faith.”
For comic value, there’s a medley of Manilow compositions written for commercials. Did you know that he helped make you thirst for Dr. Pepper? And that he urged that “You Deserve a Break Today” (for McDonald’s)? I usually can do without audience participation “acts,” but Piano Men features a pretty neat one, complete with costumes, to Manilow’s “Copacabana” hit.
Such a fun show is so right for the holidays and should be very entertaining well into the New Year. Not only the pianists but also the whole band deserve credit for their musicality.