Lively and witty Dueling Pianos take the stage at Vue Rooftop

On the first Friday night of each month, the Dueling Pianos come to perform at the Vue Rooftop restaurant — and with them, an evening filled with laughter, sing-alongs, and high spirits.


Dimia Burrell

Pianist Katrina Nilsen performs during the Dueling Pianos event at the Vue Rooftop in Iowa City on Friday, March 4, 2022.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

 Packed into the dimly lit center of the Vue Rooftop restaurant, with the Iowa City skyline in the background, two shiny pianos sat slightly angled toward one another. The music started with a bang and continued through the night at the same high energy. 

“The Dueling Pianos,” run by dueling piano company Felix and Fingers, have become a staple for the Vue Rooftop on the first Friday night of every month for the past four years. On March 4, two piano duelers — Katrina Nilsen and Jake Ashey — took the stage for an entertaining night of piano competition.

The duo began the show with what they called “a crowd-pleaser” — “Old Time of Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. It is safe to say the crowd agreed, showing its enthusiasm by singing and swaying along to the song. 

Scrap pieces of paper with written suggestions collected atop the pianos. To move up your requested song in the queue, it might be helpful to throw some money into the Iowa Hawkeye-themed tip bucket. 

The witty remarks of the pianists throughout the evening kept the audience on its toes. During a performance of “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, they told people with brown eyes to sing — then green, then blue, then finally pink eye. 

Muffled chatting could be heard across the restaurant, with snippets of conversations like “That’s my wedding song,” or “It’s my birthday” flooding the air. 

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The performers heard that it was someone’s birthday, and offered to bring her and her boyfriend up to the stage, giving them a full serenade. They eventually turned the lyrics from “Happy birthday to you,” to “I hope you get some tonight.”

Restaurant Manager Chloe Zukin said this was her third time working a Dueling Pianos show, and called this particular event “a little more lively” than the others, complimenting how interactive the players were with the crowd. 

Vue staff also requested songs and sang along with the performers. Some fan favorites from the crowd were “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, and “Fergalicious” by Fergie. These songs had the piano duelers rapping — and the audience screaming.

With the fluorescent blue backlighting,  Nilsen and Ashey radiated joy and energy as they played. They made up their own verses in songs, used a variety of colorful curse words, and even played with their feet.

During the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers, those in attendance got to participate in a yell-off. Split down the middle, the groups had to scream parts of the song louder than the other. 

Song requests continued to pile onto the pianos, with participants requesting everything from Elton John to Olivia Rodrigo, or Garth Brooks to the Backstreet Boys. 

The COO of Felix and Fingers, Robert Deason, who is also a piano dueler, explained that the event was previously more of a literal duel where the players went back and forth trying to play the song the best. Now, the event has shifted so that players complement each other with their piano to play the song more dynamically, and ultimately put on an amazing show. 

“It gets fun and energetic and messy and crazy, and you get to be a part of it,” Deason said. “That’s my favorite thing about it — the audience is just as much a part of the show as we are.”

There wasn’t a seat left open in the Vue during the Dueling Pianos — the sing-along event left the crowd dancing, smiling, and laughing through the entire performance.