Relationships are key in Dad’s Piano (with video)
What if a piano were more than just a prop? What if it was a character, too?
That was the question, several years ago, that ignited the muse of Dave Kelly, better known to Calgarians as the onetime host of Breakfast Television, that led him to write Dad’s Piano.
The question may not have originated with Dave, but rather with his brother (and director of Dad’s Piano) Rob, who’s a decade younger than Dave.
“Rob has a buddy, Jeff Neufeld,” Dave says. “He’s the piano player in the show now, and we were sitting around back then, and he sort of wondered about — we all said, wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a play where the acting and music were equally important?
“Where the musical playing, in this case of Jeff on the piano, wouldn’t just be underscoring or wouldn’t just be mood, but would actually be part of the telling of the story?”
Well, short of enlisting Pixar to give the piano a set of teeth and some punchy dialogue to deliver, it seemed unlikely, until Neufeldt, an accomplished pianist, played the Kelly brothers a piece of classical music before explaining that it was the song his dad asked him to play at his funeral.
“Which seemed sort of sweet,” Dave says, “but also kind of intense,”
It also caused Kelly to sit down and begin writing monologues about what might be said about a Dad’s life at his funeral. Soon, after enlisting the help of actor Christopher Hunt — who just played about 50 different roles in The 39 Steps — the Kellys had themselves a piano story.
“It’s a full kind of story,” Dave says, “about how this piano was the thing that tied this guy and his dad together.”
“But (it’s) also the thing that shattered their relationship, and how they dealt with that over their life.”
And while the story behind Dad’s Piano isn’t exactly autobiographical — the Kellys’ father is alive and well and living in Edmonton — the piano has, in fact, played a pretty significant role in the family’s life.
For one thing, the Kellys — all 10 kids — grew up in Edmonton in a house without television. Instead, there was this piano.
“Dad taught me the chords,” Rob says. “He was really big into Wilf Carter and other country singers from the ’30s and ’40s.”
Second, Rob grew up playing the piano, even studying it in university, before suddenly stopping midway through his third year at the University of Alberta.
“I was in therapy a lot then,” Rob says, “realizing this (studying piano) wasn’t fitting for me, and this was right around the same time I had quit going to church, probably the year before. Within a year, I had moved in with my girlfriend. There were a lot of really significant things going on in my life when I quit piano.”
(Dave, on the other hand, played piano for a couple years before switching to guitar, and appears to have emerged from the piano experience emotionally unscathed.)
And if the piano isn’t necessarily a character in each of our lives, it still remains, even for kids these days, one of those linchpins for families: the first place where your child starts to learn how to practise, how to follow through and occasionally even how to creatively express themselves.
While that may not have been the case with Dave, writing about a piano has turned out to be a fine way to unleash his creativity.
With Rob directing, Neufeldt playing and Hunt performing his words, he’s seamlessly making the transition from likable morning TV guy (Breakfast Television) to actor (Our Town, The Santaland Diaries, True Love Lies) to playwright.
The only question remaining unanswered is whether or not Dave’s words are as charming as he is.
“Absolutely,” says Rob. “And that’s kind of the fun thing about it.”
Spotlight: Lunchbox Theatre presents Dad’s Piano by Dave Kelly at Lunchbox Theatre through May 19. Tickets and info: 403-265-4292, ext. 0 or lunchbox theatre.com.
and check out the video: http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainment/festival-guide/Relationships+Piano+with+video/6532287/story.html#ooid=BmczhsNDr6NgScagezF2C7gvo51i2B6E