On the Yamaha, stage right: Dick Hyman, consummate pianist, musician and performer.
On the Yamaha, stage left: Lillette Jenkins-Wisner, consummate pianist, singer and entertainer.
She’s decked out in jewels and sparkle as befits her personality. In his tux, he’s as quiet, reserved and suave as your favorite maître d’. But when they get those fingers on their keyboards, the world lights up with music and the toes keep on a-tappin’.
Last week, the Venice Theatre presented “An Evening of Ragtime and Oldtime” with these two old-time performers, Dick and Lillette. Together, they took us through an organized procession of rags and stride piano from 1899 (Eubie Blake’s “Charleston Rag,”) to 1926 (“If I Could Be With You,” by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer). There were famous rags by Joplin, a well-known paean to the style by Irving Berlin (“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”), a couple of one-hit wonders — “The Twelfth Street Rag,” built around only three notes by Euday Bowman in 1914 — and some rollicking, frolicking, good-time songs that the pair both played and sang and had us thinking back to our fathers and mothers and grandparents, too.
You couldn’t get two more different personalities on one stage if you tried. Hyman is reserved, stoic and laid-back until his hands dart, dash and scuttle over the keys. Then, he becomes a muscle man with power to burn and a formidably encyclopedic knowledge of styles. Jenkins-Wisner is a dazzlingly, talented loose cannon; you never know what she’ll say or do and that charming ditziness she feigns is just smart enough to keep you at the edge of your seat wondering, ‘What’s next?’
Don’t let her fool you. She’s neither ditzy nor loose. She knows exactly what she’s doing and is, in her own way, as skillfully professional as the internationally-known Hyman. Together, they’re a fast-paced, fun duo and we’re lucky to have them both as neighbors.