Six minutes or less.

That’s all the time Dueling Pianos International performers figure they need to hook an audience with songs and silliness, not necessarily in that order.

“And they can hold them until they decide to let them go,” Jason Scarcelli said.

He’s president at Lorio-Ross Entertainment, which operates Dueling Pianos International, a company of about 275 traveling keyboard crazies who take their music seriously and their comedy as spontaneously as they can get it.

Story continues below gallery

Two of the company’s veteran performers will headline Ivy Tech Foundation’s 21-and-older fundraiser, “An Evening of Musical Comedy” at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at The Commons, 300 Washington St. In the past few years, a standup comedy act has headlined.

But this year’s event features an all-request, sing-along concert of pop, rock and comedy “where the audience is just as much a part of the show as the entertainers,” said Amy Ables, Ivy Tech’s resource development director.

In fact, in some online clips of Dueling Pianos International, a performer will launch into a song’s opening, only to have the crowd quickly pick up the lyrics and steal the show, if you will.

“We always say that you don’t necessarily have to sing good,” Scarcelli said, speaking from his company’s headquarters in Royal Oak, Michigan, near Detroit. “You just have to be loud.”

Think breezy, raucous, saloon-style entertainment in a clean-language, family friendly environment.

Keep in mind these musician/singers handling about 200 shows per year hardly represent your average nightclub act. They each can play a semblance of 3,000 to 4,000 songs, from Sixties classic rock to current hits.

“They really have to be a human jukebox, a disc jockey and a comedian, all rolled up into one,” Scarcelli said. “Finding those characters who can do all that can be very difficult.”

But learning how the dueling pianos format works is simple, Scarcelli said.

In fact, those who can’t tell the framework of dueling pianos from dueling banjos, take heart. The entertainers provide plenty of direction in a high-energy presentation that focuses as much attention on laughs as it does lyrics. Scarcelli estimates that 80 percent of a crowd at most of these fundraisers have never seen a dueling pianos show of any kind.

Yet, he mentioned that his company stats show that 60 percent of corporations, colleges and the like book his entertainers a second time within the next couple of years.

“Part of the reason is that every show is completely different with different songs and different entertainers,” Scarcelli said.

Not to mention with different people pulled onstage for the sake of song-related serendipity or a skit.

Scarcelli said he was lukewarm toward the first dueling pianos-style show he caught as an audience member in the 1990s. Yet, his second experience left him “just in awe of how much talent these kinds of performers have.”

He mentioned that some could make a living exclusively as musicians. Or as musical comics. But those who seamlessly blend the two disciplines become stars of the shows that began in Dallas in the late 1980s. The phenomenon then spread to the coasts and especially resort cities and towns.

At some gatherings, such as the upcoming one, performers keep tip jars atop their piano. Audience members can pay to have certain songs played. Others in the crowd then can pay to have those particular songs stopped should the tunes be deemed hilariously painful. Then, tip jar money becomes funds donated to the event’s cause.

“There’s usually a fun, back-and-forth between the audience and the players,” Scarcelli said. “And there’s a back-and-forth between the players, too.”

Piano men and women

What: Ivy Tech Foundation’s annual fundraiser featuring Dueling Pianos International, a musical comedy company encouraging audience participation, sing-alongs, and other spontaneous elements.

When: 7 to 10 p.m. Jan. 27.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Why: Proceeds to benefit Ivy Tech students, programs, equipment and outreach.

Food and drink: Light dinner and a cash bar by Simmons Winery and 450 North Brewing Co.

Tickets: $50 per person, $90 per couple, or $350 for a table of eight, available at https://connect.ivytech.edu/events/columbus/duelingpianos

Information: Amy Ables at 812-374-5342 or email aables@ivytech.edu.

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.