Written, Arranged and Performed by
Franz Schubert’s "Winterreise" exploded and mayhemed. Gute Nacht.
**2010 OBIE Award**
Set Design: Andreea Mincic
New York Theater Workshop
American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, MA
We have performed this show 106 times.
Reviews from the ART run:
"An event so remarkably individual that it seems to demand a myth to explain its origins. Imagine, say, that Spike Jones and the great German Lieder singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau met at a fraternity beer blast, fell in love, and magically conceived three male children, all musically gifted. Reared by a post-Freudian musicologist in a Lower East Side thrift shop, one day the boys stumbled on a volume of Franz Schubert's songs, played through them while sending out for pizza, and the rest is history. In other words, I can't explain Three Pianos even by mythmaking. It's as improbable as it is delightful, a loose-jointed, totally off-the-cuff, booze-and-music party—the audience gets to share the booze—in which every casual moment seems both astutely chosen and precisely executed. Its three perpetrators, Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy, and Dave Malloy, are all inventive, resourceful theater musicians, each with a distinctive stage presence, though you couldn't strictly call them actors or singers per se. Malloy, a born clown, has the strongest voice and most forceful piano style; Burkhardt's special gift is the quality, essential for Schubert, that Germans untranslatably call Innigkeit (literally, "inner-ness"). Duffy, with his actorish good looks and flamboyant style, is the troupe's most incisive performer and resident wit...The knowledge and commitment they display keep you going with them no matter what outrages they commit; at the end, Schubert and the Winterreise emerge untattered, even enhanced by the show's festive mix of rowdiness and reverence...instead of trying, condescendingly, to make classical music fun, Three Pianos makes fun classical music."
-Michael Feingold, The Village Voice
“One revelation of this wacky assault on Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” is that the upright piano is a much more versatile piece of furniture than most of us realize. In the course of the show the three pianos onstage travel farther than your old Baldwin has probably moved in its entire life, and they are shown to make excellent ventriloquist dummies, coffins, penalty boxes (for this you need three, arranged in a triangle) and literal piano bars, drinks and cocktail peanuts slung across the tops. Mr. Burkhardt, Mr. Duffy and Mr. Malloy, all fine pianists, are determined to put the fun back into melancholy...enlivening through deconstruction. Describing exactly what transpires onstage is difficult, made more so by the fact that by the show’s end you may have consumed a fair amount of wine... he three men slickly hide some substance amid the humor...by the end of this nutty show you may want to go out and buy two more pianos to keep your idle one company."
-Neil Genzlinger, New York Times
“When the rambunctious Three Pianos barreled its way onto the Incubator stage this past February, nothing could have been more effective in fighting off winter’s chill. Warmhearted and expansive, player-performers Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy sang their own irreverent version of Franz Schubert’s Winterreise, plied us with booze and reflected (at the top of their lungs) on music’s power to heal heartache. Now that cold winds are blowing again, the three madmen return bearing their nonsense and mirth, not to mention many, many bottles of red wine...its endearing erudition still makes an audience feel physically embraced. Director Rachel Chavkin lets the evening follow the rush-and-dawdle patterns of a real debauch; it feels like a long, woozy night, full of lulls and gleeful reaccelerations... Considering the collaborators’ avant-garde bona fides, one would expect a little ironic distance. Instead there’s only a comforting sense of proximity—to our hosts, to the neighbor pouring our drink and to Schubert’s suddenly accessible and still ravishing music."
-Helen Shaw, Time Out New York
from the Ontological run:
-Helen Shaw, Time Out New York
"An evening based on Schubert’s “Winterreise” seems an unlikely antidepressant. But Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy give this gloomy song cycle an amusing theatrical makeover in Three Pianos ...in the scrappy and surreal piece, the 24-part song cycle unfolds amid cleverly constructed mayhem, with Mr. Duffy, Mr. Malloy and Mr. Burkhardt metamorphosing among characters and centuries. Scenes shift with dizzying speed…they leap among pianos and pound out the songs with irreverent twists…Like the drama, the pianos are never static — energetically pushed and pulled around the set as giant props. Liquor was plentiful on set and off; bottles of wine and cups were distributed among the audience, which seemed thoroughly entertained by the trio’s goofy and touching musings about love, life and art."
-Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times
“The best antidote to winter's bitter dregs...Warms spectators at the hearth of musical enthusiasm… Like being cozily tucked away with a clutch of nerdy music-loving friends, Three Pianos transforms Winterreise's spectral solitudes into a parable of artistic community."
-Jacob Gallagher-Ross, The Village Voice
"Smart, funny, thoughtful and even educational. Deftly directed by Rachel Chavkin of The TEAM, Three Pianos is performed with skillful musicianship and engaging acting. As they move the pianos around the stage in various configurations you’ll be amazed that they keep performing this complicated and beautiful music without missing a beat. Literally. It is an ambitious task to embark on creating a contemporary re-setting of classical music that is accessible and theatrical, yet the Three Pianos team has managed to do it...a real gem of a piece, definitely not your run-of-the-mill experimental downtown mishmosh but a well-planned, carefully constructed, precise (but still endearingly messy), composition from three very talented artists."
Photos by Ryan Jensen: