“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is a daughter’s tribute to her mother, a portrait of Europe embroiled in world war and a testament to the power of music during dark days.
The one-woman show at Le Petit stars Mona Golabek, a concert pianist like her mother, and is based on her book “The Children of Willesden Lane” about her mother’s remarkable journey from Vienna to London by way of “kindertransport,” a rescue effort for Jewish children.
Golabek commands the stage both as storyteller and musician, punctuating the narrative with beautiful renditions from classical composers like Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and, most significantly, Edvard Grieg, all played with dramatic and emotive flourish.
The music is central to the tale of her mother, Lisa Jura, who clung to music as the world spun around her, separated from her family and living with dozens of other young Jewish refugees in a hostel on London’s Willesden Lane. Her mother’s story is marked by fear, violence and sadness, but provides a counterweight in the love and compassion offered by the right people at the right time, as Jura survived the war and went on to share her story— and her talent and passion for music —with her daughter.
Directed and adapted by Hershey Felder, the elegant staging features Golabek, dressed in stately black, on stage with a Steinway piano and four screens in gilt frames that project black-and-white photographs and film reels of the people and places devastated by the war. There’s a distinct contrast between the grandeur of the staging and the hardship of the story, which sometimes creates an emotional distance between the events and the telling of them. But as the show nears its end, the distance evaporates. History bangs right up against the present moment, reminding audiences of the direct link between the horrors of the Holocaust and the woman on stage and, for those paying attention, reflecting the present-day world around them.
“The Pianist of Willesden Lane”
WHEN: Through May 26
WHERE: Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St.
INFO: LePetitTheatre.com or (504) 522-2081