The Pianist of Willesden Lane dramatizes mother’s escape from Nazis

Mona Golabek tells her mother’s story
Mona Golabek tells her mother’s story

The Segal Centre kicks off its new season with a concert/drama that is tailor-made for its core audience and, with high quality music, acting, story, and direction is sure to appeal to the city’s broader theatre community.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane garnered rave reviews when it played in the U.S. It stars pianist-narrator Mona Golabek, who performs on a Steinway as she tells the story of her pianist mother’s escape from Nazi Vienna.

In the 90-minute show, as reviewer Robert Hurwitt wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2013, Golabek does more than just tell a great story: “She accompanies her tale with music that infuses, illustrates, amplifies and elevates The Pianist of Willesden Lane to make the personal universal, and another generation so personal that you can’t help feel your heart swell in response.”

The reviewer goes on to report that on viewing the performance, “If there was a dry eye in the house …my own were too filled with tears to see it.”

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The play is based on the story of Golabek’s mother, Holocaust and London Blitz survivor Lisa Jura, which Golabek first recounted in The Children of Willesden Lane, written with Lee Cohen. The story begins in 1938 Vienna, by then under German Nazi control, as
Hitler’s punishing anti-Jewish laws take force, a prelude to the community’s destruction.

Jura’s dream is to perform Grieg’s magnificent piano concerto in A Minor, and director Hershey Felder  uses the concerto’s lovely melodies to frame the play, from beginning to end.

As Hurwitt has written, the first movement sets up the darkening cloud of Nazi controlled Vienna, the second accentuates the terror unleashed by the Luftwaffe’s bombing of civilian targets in London, while the third provides the soundtrack for eventual resolution.

As Golabek plays, the story comes alive as she conveys the anxiety of trying to maintain contact with parents and sisters in Vienna, living through the terror and friendships that blossom during the shared experience of daily bombardment in London.

She plays music that was popular at the time, but also relives the tension of an audition to gain acceptance at the Royal Academy. “You may never hear Claire de Lune the same way again,” Hurwitt writes.

The play is on for 23 performances Sept. 8–29 at the Segal Centre’s Sylvan Adams Theatre, including matinées.

For tickets or info click on segalcentre.org/en/shows or call 514-739-7944.


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