Upright Grand

Upright Grand

By Laura Schellhardt

Directed by Meredith McDonough

Originally produced at TheatreWorks , Palo Alto, CA.

July 14, 2012 through August 10, 2012

About the Premiere Production

Dad tickles ivories in a dive. Daughter dazzles concert halls. Between them the bittersweet counterpoint of parent and child, respect and rebellion, dream and disappointment plays out in the key of life. Funny, profound, and thoroughly beloved at the TheatreWorks 2011 New Works Festival, this music-filled family drama puts a piano and its passionate players center stage in a masterpiece for four hands. From the author of Auctioning the Ainsleys -winner of a 2010 Edgerton Foundation New Plays Award.

Artistic Statement

“There is nothing better than a good play about a parent-child relationship. This one was perfect.”


I found this quote on a comment card after the staged reading of Upright Grand in our 2011 New Works Festival. As I watched our patrons stream out of the auditorium with hands on their hearts and tears in their eyes, the potency of this play was terrifically palpable - and this was just a staged reading! My inbox was flooded with similar feedback from patrons with personal anecdotes of how the emotional complexities of the play ring so true.


At its core, Upright Grand is a beautiful but heartbreaking story about family and the complexities of a father-daughter relationship. Spanning two decades, the play depicts Pops and Kiddo, two people who should have built a relationship long ago, figuring out who they are, for better or for worse, through their shared love of the piano. He tickles the ivories in a dive bar, abdicating his role as a father while struggling to cultivate his creative genius. She shows an incredible musical aptitude at an early age and eventually soars to celebrated heights, but rarely comes home to visit. Through the years and through their music they build a language to connect to each other. It’s a play that asks the audience to embrace sentimentality – a concept that has fallen out of favor in our modern times –examining the exponential rapidity of time as we age, how precious some moments can be, and a reminder to cherish what you have when you have it.


Upright Grand is also exciting and relevant because it epitomizes the emerging genre of ‘music theatre’ – the blending of music and theatre in the way that makes it a ‘play with music’, not a conventional musical. TheatreWorks is a pioneer in this unique branch of stage craft and is excited to lend our experience to the realization of this terrific piece. As a play about artistry, creative genius, and the piano, it brings a whimsical meta-artistry to the stage. Art is in the room with us, the live piano makes the piece electric in its theatricality.

-Meredith McDonough, Director of New Works

Grant Statement

The majority of extra rehearsal provided by the Edgerton grant will be spent crafting the play’s musical accompaniment. The play is completely underscored, and the tone and character of the music is still in development. The essential exploration will be to determine what the live piano can do for the play, how the music will integrate into the story, and how the character of the accompanist will literally and figuratively accompany Pops and Kiddo through the passage of time. Additionally, the extra rehearsal gives the actors more time to explore and hone the physicality of characters at four different stages of their lives – a task that requires incredible fine-tuning and attention. TheatreWorks couldn’t be more proud and humbled to have received our fifth consecutive Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award for Upright Grand, a gift that allows us to provide the rehearsal time and resources that these new plays deserve.

-Meredith McDonough, Director of New Works

Director: Meredith McDonough

Set Design: Kris Stone

Lighting Design: Paul Toben

Sound Design: Cliff Caruthers

Costume Design: Maggie Whitaker

Accompanist: Brett Ryback

Musical Director: William Liberatore

Cast: Renata Friedman, Dan Hiatt


Review: 'Upright Grand' at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto


July 18, 2012 (updated)


'Upright Grand' review: Music over words


July 15, 2012