It's not that pianist David Scheel is playing Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" outside of its normal wedding-march setting. And it's not that he's playing Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Memory" from Cats 1,700 miles away from Broadway. It's that he's doing both at the same time.
Combining two classic pieces is just one of the talents Scheel brings to his solo show, Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player, appearing Friday and Saturday at the Manitou Art Theatre. Scheel has built his career on three prongs: remixing classical music in unusual ways (one version has him playing "Scotland the Brave" in the styles of Mozart, Rachmaninoff and overheard-on-a-neighbor's-iPod); offering humorous and insightful commentary between pieces; and playing his own beautiful compositions.
Scheel, who was born in southern Australia, points to his parents as stage influences.
"My father was an orchestral conductor, who studied under the great, eccentric British conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, a legendary wit, some of whose stories I quote in my concerts," Scheel says. "My mother wasn't theatrical, but she was a great beauty and was occasionally a [body] double for Rita Hayworth in movies."
Scheel lit out for London in the 1980s, a typical move for Aussie performers at the time. While in the U.K., he garnered acclaim for his work on stage and TV, and decided a career move was in order.
"It came as a suggestion from the cast of a revue I was doing in London's West End, a sort of stage version of Saturday Night Live," Scheel says. "The rest of the cast knew I could write, and play the piano, so they suggested a solo show, and, luckily, it worked."
The show eventually sold out at three consecutive Edinburgh Festivals. Fifteen years into it, he routinely updates content, while using the platform to comment on social issues.
An "outspoken" environmentalist, Scheel says he once played a pivotal role in saving the endangered Californian condor.
"The Audubon Society, which I usually admire, didn't want the few remaining wild birds to be caught and put into a captive breeding program," he remembers. "I challenged that ... and they climbed down. I'm proud of that."
At shows, Scheel rallies crowds with that persuasive charisma — and then deals with the consequences. A large part of Don't Shoot Me depends on audience participation, and Scheel says that one time when he asked for new composition ideas, a woman requested he create something based on driving from Boston to Miami while suffering from PMS.
"Try that!" he says, adding, "If I can appeal to people of my own generation, and older generations, and yet still find a new audience amongst today's youth, I guess I must be doing something right."