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Written and performed by JAN PRESTON
Directed by GAYLENE PRESTON
How I learned to stop worrying and love the piano
The irrepressible Jan Preston comes clean on her longstanding and sometimes bumpy road to piano stardom.
Jan will spin yarns from dives in Soho to the concert halls of Europe, to stealing a piano in broad daylight from the 1860s Bar in Lambton Quay.
She will accompany herself, of course, on Circa Theatres’ lovingly cared for piano.
You will hear Chopsticks as you have never heard it, with Jan’s original songs and compositions providing perfect counterpoint to her story.
A WONDERFULLY INTIMATE, AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist, 16 Oct 2015
Jan Preston’s one woman show Adventures in Pianoland is a delightful journey through some of the highs and lows of a talented pianist’s fascinating life and career. This is an evening out that will hold special appeal for older audiences and their appreciation on opening night is obvious. However, their mokopuna will find it just as enjoyable and an ideal opportunity to share some insights, at turns whimsical and shrewd, into our music and culture of the last fifty years.
The show starts strongly with ‘At the Gate’ – St. Peter’s gate that is. This is a great song. There are no evasions, in the lyrics or the music. It’s a timely reminder that we face fresh challenges at every stage of life and is well judged to gain the attention of this audience.
Returning to the beginning from this imagined conclusion, Preston goes on to ‘tell the story of her life’, with a good balance of narrative and pauses for refreshment at musical stations along the way. With an effortless charm and candour, she draws us in, with deceptive ease, to the heart of growing up through the sixties and developing through subsequent decades.
Without the aid of any written music she traverses classical and contemporary pieces and the lighting and slides add many telling moments. The strength of her own composing stands out most of all. An example is ‘Little Friend’ written for her young son. This is a beautiful song that is all the more affecting for its place in the life story Preston tells. Of the pieces contributed by others, Winifred Atwell’s ‘Big Ben Boogie’ is a stand-out, lovingly performed and a fascinating glimpse of just why this boogie-woogie pianist became such a legend across the Tasman.
There is a magical quality to Preston’s syncopation at times, and a gentle but precise feel to her playing. Once or twice, first night nerves were in evidence and I would like to see her take a little more time to change gears when moving from contemporary to classical playing so that we can fully enjoy their distinct ‘structures of feeling’.
More to the point, I would have liked another ten, fifteen even twenty minutes of material in the body of the show. That could include, perhaps, a little more of the actual music of childhood or of Red Mole – certainly of Coup d’Etat and the music of that time, and certainly some account of the years in film composing.
The latter would no doubt present challenges, working with just a piano. I have a feeling Preston would rise to these, however, as she would to exploring a little more of the bad and the ugly, musically speaking, as well as the great and the good. All of this, I think, would only leave the audience wanting more.
The secret to this show is its authenticity. There is no boasting or big noting here, despite Preston having achieved a great deal in the business over the years. If anything she is too modest. But what we do gain is a wonderfully intimate experience showing how challenges in life to which we can all relate are reflected in music and, particularly, in the mirror of an instrument through which Preston has grown and matured over the years.
The hand of older sister Gaylene Preston, who directed, is manifest. Once again she demonstrates that our own stories told in our own manner are the most rewarding of all. Ideal for smaller venues, I have a feeling this show will not only gain in self-confidence as this (very brief) season continues, and there will be many more seasons to come.