Forget relaxing amid the upcoming sing-along, party-oriented atmosphere of “Dueling Pianos Take 2” at The Commons in Columbus.
Performer Dan Louisell offered a straightforward disclaimer directed at audience members.
“We tell them at the beginning of the show that we expect them to do a lot of the work singing and clapping,” Louisell said, speaking by phone from his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “The more work the audience does, the less (stage partner) Noel (Leaman) and I have to do.
“We’re both real lazy.”
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Then came chuckling on the other end of the line.
Louisell’s wit remained as “on” as his caffeinated show energy during a quick chat to highlight the Ivy Tech Community College’s encore show Jan. 19. The school’s inaugural piano man extravaganza in January this year sold out its 325 seats, according to organizers. And the upcoming event’s 360 tickets were nearing a sellout at press time.
How do Louisell and sidekick Leaman get hundreds of people crazily singing along to pop hits through the years? Well, it’s not quite rock-it science.
“Most of the places that we play serve alcohol,” Louisell said dryly.
Actually, both pianists will drink to the idea of trying nearly anything within the bounds of good taste and public decorum for laughs. Online video clips show them donning hats and masks, for instance, for various numbers.
The Dueling Pianos International format involves two keyboardists face to face on stage amid “a high-energy, all-request, sing-along … comedy piano show where the audience is just as much of the show as the entertainers,” according to organizers.
Locally, the event raises funds for scholarships and other financial assistance for students. Chris Schilling, Ivy Tech’s director of marketing and communications, attended last year’s performance and can understand the draw.
“People love live music. And these performers are very interactive with the crowd. They make people laugh,” Schilling said.
“And another big draw is that some people might have had this (Dueling Pianos) experience elsewhere.”
Once audience members arrive, they quickly find performers Louisell and Leaman taking their music semi-seriously and their comedy as spontaneously as they can get it.
“We have enough tricks up our sleeve,” Leaman said, speaking by phone from his home in Saginaw, Michigan. “And, if they’re not laughing initially, we always can bring people’s coworkers up on stage and have them laugh at them (singing).”
Jason Scarcelli is president at Lorio-Ross Entertainment, which operates the Michigan-based Dueling Pianos International, a company of about 275 traveling keyboard crazies.
“They really have to be a human jukebox, a disc jockey and a comedian, all rolled up into one,” Scarcelli has said. “Finding those characters who can do all that can be very difficult.”
Repeat business booms “because every show that we do is different.”
That includes fresh audience interaction. Fresh tunes. New, unscripted moments.
“A lot of musical acts are super-polished and perfectly put together,” Louisell said. “But, since we are request-based, we fly a lot more by the seat of our pants. We never remotely know what’s going to happen during a show.
“And I think that spontaneity translates to the audience. Plus, if something goes wrong, then that is definitely more fodder for us to play with.”
Offstage, Leaman, who has been doing Dueling Pianos for 20 years, prefers the blues. Onstage, he chases away the blues.
He said it helps when audience members brings a few extra bucks to stuff in the tip jars sitting on the pianos.
“People can ask for (Lynyrd Skynyrd’s) ‘Free Bird,’” Leaman said, referring to a classic bar or club crowd request of musicians. “But, with us, we tell them ‘Free Bird’ isn’t free.”
Audience tips go toward the cause, for scholarships and other assistance for Ivy Tech students.
What: Ivy Tech Community College presents “Dueling Pianos Take 2” featuring two nationally touring performers from Dueling Pianos International. This event is for people 21-and-older.
When: 7 p.m. Jan. 19.
Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.
Why: The event raises funds for scholarships and other financial assistance for students.
Food and more: A light dinner provided by Simmons Winery and a cash bar will be available.
Tickets: $50 per person or $90 per couple, with limited availability at https://connect.ivytech.edu/duelingpianos