The Pianist of Willesden Lane – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

Fate and luck have a lot to play when a father is a gambler and wins one ticket to freedom for one of his three daughters. It sounds a little like the impossible decisions of a King Solomon or a Sophie’s choice.

In this case a fourteen year old girl in Vienna is put on the Kindertransport train by her parents at the eve of World War ii to escape the Nazis. All she has with her is a small suitcase, the sewing skills taught to her by her father and the love of music given to her by her mother. The train would carry her and almost 10,000 Jewish children to England over the war years and her inspiring story is being revealed by her daughter in a deeply moving concert with words currently thrilling audiences at Hartford Stage until Sunday, July 22.

The teenager’s name was Lisa Jura and we can thank her daughter Mona Golabek for bringing her inspirational story to life. Transport yourself to an elegant drawing room where a concert of piano music by Grieg, Debussy, Liszt and Beethoven is being performed, all the while a transforming story of survival unfolds. Mona Golabek first wrote her mother’s story in a book and thanks to Hershey Felder that book, written with Lee Cohen, is now an astonishing narrative accompanied by glorious music.

The musically mesmerizing Ms. Golabek takes her audiences on a riveting journey as her mother uses her music to make boys and men fall in love with her, while inspiring hope that the world will survive. Calling her music her best friend, Lisa pounded the keyboard to drown out the boom of bombs during the London blitz. She becomes a musical Pied Piper for all the children terrified of the war, living together under one roof at 243 Willesden Lane.

Mona Golabek with no formal training as an actress nevertheless becomes all the people who live in her mother’s world, from the uncle who was supposed to save her to the guardians like Mrs. Cohen and Mr, Hardesty who give her shelter, to the young French soldier who hears her music and is entranced.

Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay have designed a gilted setting of gold and black with empty picture frames that are soon filled with visual projections that portray her life, all surrounding a grand Steinway piano.

For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Equal parts stirring piano concert and moving true tale of a teenager, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is packed with all the love, respect and honor one daughter can gift to her mother. All the proceeds from her book “The Children of Willesden Lane” go to her non-profit organization Hold On To Your Music, the words spoken to Lisa by her mother Malka as she left Vienna on her incredible journey.

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