BWW Review: THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE at Mountain View Center For The Performing Arts
Hershey Felder has mastered the niche of incorporating the beauty of classical music with a dramatic arc to create compelling works of theatre that satisfy emotionally and educate as well. Channeling the masters Gershwin, Beethoven, Debussy, Chopin and others, Felder is a master portraitist, concert pianist and storyteller. Here, he adapts the amazing story of Mona Golabek's mother Lisa Jura, a pianist and survivor of the Nazi atrocities in WW II. There's no denying the artistry of Golabek's skill as she presents the works of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Edvard Grieg and her loving tribute to her mother's journey is powerful and authentic.
Travelling back to 1938, young Lisa is a promising pianist, training under a renowned professor and fascinated by the legacy of the great Viennese masters. Her mother is a pianist, her father a tailor and life is magic for young Lisa and her two sisters. But the increasing Nazi presence throws a pall over normal activities; Lisa's piano lessons are banned to Jews; her father is out of work and the horrors of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) reverberate throughout Europe. Projections of that event and the roundup and deportation of Jews fill the beautifully ornate oversized picture frames that surround Golabek's concert grand.
When her father receives a single ticket in the Kindertransport program that would rescue some 10,000 Jewish children, Lisa is chosen for escape and the hope of a future. Such decisions are unthinkable today but were forced upon families in their most extreme moments of desolation and despair. Lisa is sent to London and foster homes where she bonds with the other children, finds a teacher and is accepted into the Royal Academy.
Golabek is not a trained actor, but the material is so close to home that her heartfelt tribute connects us and her story right from the beginning. The musical interludes are beautifully presented; Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, Debussy's "Clair de Lune," Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C sharp minor and Jura's signature piece, Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor. When Lisa plays for the soldiers in a hotel frequented by soldiers, she includes the modern pieces "Strike Up the Band" and My Foolish Things".
The fears hopes and dreams of young Lisa represent those of humanity at that time struggling against the very worst in human nature. The Pianist of Willesden Lane is challenging and ultimately joyous. Felder and Golabek have created a work that stands the bets of time and bridges the human spirit with some off its most magnificent achievements.
The Pianist of Willesden Lane continues through February 16, 2020 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. Tickets available at www.theatreworks.org or by calling 650-463-1960.
Photos by Hershey Felder Presents