When it comes to Holocaust-inspired memoirs, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” which had its New York premiere at the 59E59 Theatre, is in a class all by itself.
A rare treat, the show interweaves memory and classical music performance by world-renowned pianist Mona Golabek who recreates her [pianist] mother Lisa Jura’s journey from 1938 Vienna to London as a Kindertransport refugee…and beyond.
Adapted from the book “The Children of Willesden Lane” by Ms. Golabek and Lee Cohen, it opens with Ms. Golabek coming out on stage in a black dress and glossy hair bob. She begins her memoir stands next to a Steinway grand while behind her on a floor-to-ceiling black velvet curtain hang oversize oddly shaped Dali-inspired empty gilt frames.
Mona Golabek and Gina // Photo by Karen Leon
“It is Vienna 1938 Friday afternoon and I am preparing for the most important hour of my week — my piano lesson” announces Golabek as she channels her 14-year-old mother Lisa. She recalls the Jewish section of the magical city Vienna where she lives. There are memories of Shabbos, and candle lighting.
Suddenly things change. Her father’s shop is closed. Gangs roam Vienna. Most devastating to her is the shock of her beloved professor Isseles telling her that “Teaching a Jewish child is now forbidden…. ’There will be no lessons any more…I am not a brave man.’” Golabek/Lisa revisits Isseles’ reaction to her performance of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata—“’Legato! Make the phrase sing…. minor is not major!’” Golabek/Lisa then exquisitely performs the sonata on the stage Steinway.