When asked where they met, dueling pianists Dave Eichholz and Ted Manderfeld often answer that they met in “jail” or were “phlebotomists at the same clinic.”
In truth, Manderfeld was a bit of a groupie.
Ten years ago, Eichholz had been touring and performing with another player who was on the verge of retiring, and when the then 22-year-old Manderfeld found out, he took action.
“I literally quit my job and followed him around until he hired me,” Manderfeld said.
Initially told he wasn’t the right guy for the job — which he said required “part-showman, part-smart aleck,” plus a whole lot of versatility — Manderfeld persisted.
“We went to breakfast, and he was just riffing,” Eichholz said. “He has this crazy photographic memory for jokes he’s heard in the past. He’s like a savant. He can go and go and go. I couldn’t believe how much funny crap this guy had to say.”
Since then, the two have played more than 1,400 shows together, and they perform on the Lakeville Area Arts Center stage for the first time on Friday.
After spending much of their career playing bars, fundraisers and corporate events, the duo has recently made a foray into theater shows. Manderfeld said they wanted to take the dueling pianos idea — the request-driven show with performers at two grand pianos engaged in a good-natured competition — and make it more of a Vegas-style show.
“There is sort of a playbook,” he said. “We’ve thought much more of what it would be as a main stage show.”
They do a lot of comedy bits, and parodies are standard fare. Their play list varies — pop, rock, rap, country, show tunes — anything from the ’60s pop song “Hey, Baby!” to the current hip-hop hit “Thrift Shop,” by Seattle’s Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
“We know a little bit of a whole lotta songs,” Manderfeld said.
Like the bar shows, they keep theater shows interactive. “If they’re not clapping along, they are singing along,” Manderfeld said. They regularly engage the crowd in sing-offs, and Eichholz said he loves pulling audience members onto the stage.
“Every now and then, you hear a voice that’s crystal clear and jog down and bring them on the stage,” he said. “We want the audience to take ownership in it.”
“People love to sing,” he said. “It must be therapy. It’s like primal scream therapy. You’ve got to get it out.”
Both players have had a lot of years to hone their craft and add to their repertoire. Eichholz said he started playing piano when he was about 3 and lived in remote northern Minnesota in the 1970s.
“There’s no cable in the woods,” he said.
At the age of 6, he taught his kindergarten teacher how to play.
Manderfeld started playing when he was 10 and claims he learned the real power of playing when, as an eighth-grader, his high school senior brother beckoned him over to start playing “Home Sweet Home,” by Motley Crue.
“All of a sudden,” he said, “all these senior girls surrounded us. It’s a great motivator, I tell you what.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.