BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
A heady brew of party animal antics and classical music, "Three Pianos" offers a strangely lovely study of composer Franz Schubert and his "Winterreise" cycle of 24 songs.
Created and vividly performed by musician-actors Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy, "Three Pianos" may well annoy purists drawn to New York Theatre Workshop, where the show opened Sunday.
A formal concert this is not: The wintry song cycle always is treated fondly but sometimes irreverently.
Basically the performers portray New York musicians like themselves who hang out in an apartment one night, drinking and frequently jamming away at three upright pianos. Swapping bits of musical history and lore about the composer, the three eventually evoke a Schubertiad - the drunken musical parties that the impoverished Schubert and his bohemian poet chums used to enjoy back in 1820s Vienna.
During the next two hours, most of the songs in the cycle are performed complete with musicological annotations and personal digressions as the buddies here get blitzed while they bliss out on the music. The pianos roll around the room, the guys go wild and the melancholy nature of the tunes contrasts with the joy of performance as this imaginative music-theater piece celebrates Schubert and his raffish times.
Director Rachel Chavkin makes these boisterous proceedings appear totally spontaneous, while designer Andreea Mincic provides an atmospheric indoor-outdoor setting that charmingly merges many curious elements. Austin R. Smith's lighting develops changing shades of mood as the party waxes and wanes.
Including in the price of admission is all the red wine viewers can drink, arranged on sideboards in the auditorium so everyone can join in this unusually joyful celebration of a great composer and his music.
"Three Pianos" continues through Jan.9 at New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.nytw.org.