RANDY KEITH | PREMIER PIANO SHOWS
Liberace’s HBO television biography, “Behind the Candelabra” debuted with much anticipation, depicting the famous pianist Liberace (played by Michael Douglas), one of the first true interactive piano entertainers, in all his glory as well as downfall. Liberace, like many of his contemporaries and predecessors including Elton John, Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis, Freddie Mercury, Madonna and Lady Gaga, had his share of love and drama throughout his career.
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In “Behind the Candelabra,” we see a very short scene where Liberace’s two grand pianos are set up side by side, quite different than the standard dueling piano setup of the 21st century, where the two pianos face each other.
Randy Keith, the self-named “Liberace of Santa Clarita,” is an interactive piano entertainer and travels across the country performing a different kind of dueling piano show than Liberace did.
“People always ask me, ‘When are you going to duel’?” Keith said.
While the setup calls for two pianists to perform with each other, “dueling” pianos is a misnomer; more accurately, the setup should be spelled “duo-ling” pianos, as in a duo. The only exceptions are in the occasional request for the “Dueling Banjos” scene from “Deliverance,” or the few times when each partner tries to “show up” the other with fancy piano solos, similar to what Elton John and Billy Joel have done in their “Face to Face” tours.
“I have worked at one club that actually makes a reference to a duel,” Keith said, referring to a popular dueling piano nightclub in Las Vegas, “Napoleon’s,” inside the Paris hotel. “The posters advertising the show actually say ‘I challenge you to a duel,’ even though I know the two regular players there, Dave Mauk and James Hill. They play a mean piano but would have no idea what to do with a sword.”
Despite the short “dueling” scene in “Behind the Candelabra,” Liberace did no such dueling of any sort onstage. In fact, the movie depicts very few onstage scenes and stays true to the title by delving mostly behind the scenes into his personal affairs. The majority, if not the only, element of the plot is Liberace’s relationship and fallout with his lover Scott Thorson, played by Matt Damon.
As depicted in “Behind the Candelabra,” Liberace met Thorson in 1977, the same year that Elton John came out as bisexual. Between tabloid attacks and drug and alcohol addiction, the late 70s and early 80s proved a rough time for Elton.
Liberace tried to avoid these pitfalls by keeping his sexuality and relationships completely secret. While Elton skirted by with an extreme amount of luck and fortune, Liberace fell victim to the AIDS virus long before Elton received his first Grammy Award. Dan Akroyd, playing Liberace’s agent Seymour Heller in “Behind the Candelabra,” went to many lengths to keep Liberace’s homosexuality and cause of death a secret.
“This is the only part I don’t relate to with these guys,” Keith reviews. “I have done the traveling, I have played the piano solos, I have even had the relationship drama. But I’m straight.” Being a fan of not just Elton John’s music but also many musical theatre productions (mostly from his tenure at Saugus High School), Keith is sometimes the “odd man out” in an industry that has become much more politically correct (and accepting of homosexuality) since the height of Liberace’s fame.
At first, the relationship between Liberace and Thorson’s actors appeared like it would be awkward. But Douglas nailed Liberace’s essence and Damon delivered an equally excellent performance. The actual belongings used from Liberace’s museum to his old homes contributed to the authenticity of the movie and the Thorson relationship as well.
Michael Douglas’ excellent depiction of Liberace in HBO’s “Behind the Candelabra” reminds us that Liberace truly was a pioneer in show business. He certainly had financial and emotional insecurities (at the end of the movie we are shown how he easily replaces Scott Thorson with a new, younger stud), but in his own way opened up the doors for future artists to be more forthcoming with the details of their personal lives. Liberace was a one-of-a-kind interactive piano entertainer, but certainly not the last.
About Randy Keith
Randy Keith, a Santa Clarita native, travels the country performing as a professional piano entertainer. Randy plays at dueling piano clubs primarily in Southern California and Las Vegas and is available for bookings through his company, PremierPianoShows.com.
Read more about Randy Keith, Santa Clarita Native Aspires To Fame Of Dueling Piano Greats.
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Source: Santa Clarita News