It's Friday night at the Brink Lounge, and Josh Dupont and Adam Nelson have laced up their sneakers. Though piano-bar performers tend to sport shiny wingtips, this wardrobe choice makes sense once the show begins. These guys are musical triathletes, performing a marathon set of tunes, swimming through piles of song requests and riding jokes to their hilarious conclusions.
This evening, the set list bounces from a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the Carpenters' "Close to You" to an impassioned "Hey Jude" to a certain Cee-Lo Green hit. Dupont and Nelson refuse to replace Green's F-bomb with "forget," so they ask the crowd to do all the cussing. The fans happily oblige. It's part of their own workout at this dueling-pianos event. They feverishly brainstorm song requests, scurry up to the stage with song titles and dollar bills, and dance along.
Despite all this exercise, the event takes its name from a fattening treat: the gooey cheese of fondue pots.
"We're a mixture of different types of music and entertainment - comedy and some serious stuff like musical theater," says local pianist and vocalist Chris Lange, who founded Piano Fondue with Dupont following a community theater production of Ragtime. "And cheesy at the same time. We'll do numbers from, say, Phantom of the Opera for a school, then Cartman's version of 'Come Sail Away' from South Park for the grownups."
At most shows, two of the three principals perform as a duo. The show celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, but Lange still can't believe how successful it's become. "It all began at a cast party where Josh and I took turns singing and playing the piano," he recalls. "We'd seen dueling pianos before and decided to give it a try, and three months later we were booked four nights a week and ready to go on our first cruise ship. To this day, it's very surreal."
Since its inception, Piano Fondue has become a touring act that travels the Midwest and hits Las Vegas as well as the Brink. Along the way, Dupont has morphed into the show's head ham. Locals who know him from his recent post-Glee performances at Plan B would never guess he used to be a bit of a wallflower. He fields Broadway and Disney requests as deftly as an outfielder handles fly balls, and his witty banter seems second nature.
"Josh has definitely come out of his shell, and I think he's our most outspoken performer now," Lange says.
What keeps the audience, and the performers, coming back for more? The element of surprise. "Our favorite songs are the ones people wouldn't expect from pianists, like when we do 'Bohemian Rhapsody' with a three-part harmony, or beatbox behind a Lady Gaga song," says Lange.
"When Adam brings his French horn or Josh pulls a trumpet out of nowhere and climbs on top of the piano to play the guitar solo from 'Freebird,' that's when we're on fire."