Categorized | Jewish Religion

A moving musical journey through WWII

Scene from The Pianist of Willesden Lane

Scene from The Pianist of Willesden Lane

By Erin Philips

Erin Philips

Erin Philips

SAN DIEGOKicking off San Diego REP’s 40th season, The Pianist of Willesden Lane is the story of Lisa Jura, a young Jewish girl from Austria whose passion for music and skill as a pianist sustains her through the dark and terrible years of World War II. As told by her daughter Mona Golabek, an acclaimed concert pianist and Grammy nominee, the one-woman show is a marvel of storytelling.

Accompanying herself on the Steinway concert grand piano that occupies center stage, Golabek delights and enthralls, walking the audience step by step through her mother’s experience. Through changes in voice and mannerism, Golabek ably portrays a series of characters, from Lisa’s family in Austria to her fellow hostel-dwellers in London. Photo and video projections within four large picture frames that hang above the stage help set the scene, adding visual detail and depth to her performance.

Music is the beating, emotional heart of the story – conveying terror in the streets of Vienna, frantic goodbyes boarding the Kindertransport train, pluck and humor navigating bureaucracy and life in England as a Jewish refugee. Golabek’s fingers dance silently above the keyboard during secret nocturnal practices, fly lightning-fast over the keys as she describes Lisa sewing at a factory, and crash and hammer as bombs explode over London. In the culminating piece, Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, her hands move elegantly, dramatically, each and every note rich with hope and loss.

Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder, the show is based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane, which Golabek co-wrote with Lee Cohen. For a riveting story, intimately and originally told, don’t miss the return production of The Pianist of Willesden Lane, playing on the Lyceum Stage in Horton Plaza through July 26.

Philips is a freelance writer specializing in coverage of the arts.

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