BWW Review: THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE at Westport Country Playhouse
Whether or not you are holiday shopping, there's a treat for you at the Westport Country Playhouse. It's Mona Golabek and her show, The Pianist of Willesden Lane. Based on the book she co-wrote with Lee Cohen, The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival, the one-woman show was adapted and directed by Hershey Felder.
Golabek considers herself a musician and a storyteller, but that's the way Benjamin Scheuer saw himself in his one-man show, The Lion. Both BroadwayWorld and Joel Grey consider him an actor, and this critic feels the same way about Golabek. She was also nominated for Best Actress by the New York Drama Critics and Los Angeles Drama Critics. But let's not quibble about that. This show is not just another true story about a Holocaust survivor. It's about what you hold onto when times are unimaginably difficult. And at a time when antisemitism is on the rise in the United States and Europe and families are torn apart in this country because of government policy, the show is more relevant than ever. Golabek has been taking her show on the road since 2012.
The story is about her mother's survival as a teenager whose parents used their one Kindertransport train ticket to send their prodigal daughter to England to escape the Nazi invasion of Austria. At 14, Lisa Jura's piano lessons came to an end, first because of the new laws in Austria that no one was allowed to teach Jewish students, and then in England, where she lived with many other children as "sardines" in a house that was eventually bombed. Good luck finally came her way when she was invited to audition for the Royal Academy of Music in London. She was accepted and was eventually able to achieve her dreams. Oh, and she was able to reunite with her two sisters, who survived the Holocaust.
Golabek herself is an excellent musician - a third generation pianist - and it is an honor to see her perform both as an actress and pianist. The 90-minute show features Felder and Trevor Hay's simple set of a grand piano and three large vintage frames onto which pictures of her family, Austria, and England are projected (brilliantly by Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal). Kudos to Jason Bieber for the lighting design and to Erik Carstensen for the sound design.
But, wait! There are more gifts besides tickets at the Westport Country Playhouse. You can buy a video of Golabek's original performance at the Playhouse last year, her book (in both adult and young adult versions), and two music CDs which she recorded.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane plays only through December 22 at the Westport Country Playhouse. Treat yourself to it. It's memorable and uplifting, even during this happy season. 25 Powers Court, Westport. 203-227-4177. www.westportplayhouse.org