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“The Pianist Of Willesden Lane” At Geffen Playhouse A Triumph!

Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

Every so often a rare theatrical treat comes along.  Mostly, it takes the form of a small, blisteringly comedic play like “God of Carnage”, or a huge canvas effort like “War Horse”.  Both examples are well deserved.  Now, from the pen and incredible talent of Hershey Felder and a co-authored book by the gifted concert pianist Mona Golabeck, comes a collaboration made in heaven  –  “The Pianist of Willesden Lane”.

Many times, real life stories trump fiction when it comes to delivering powerful emotions and moments on a stage.  In this world premiere production of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane”, currently on the boards at the Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre, there are moments of sheer brilliance on the part of Mona Golabeck’s performance.  Miss Golabeck is a recognized world-class concert pianist.  What probably isn’t known, by many is that she is an accomplished actor as well. She portrays all of the characters and also performs all of the piano pieces.

The show is a one-woman tribute and homage to her mother, concert pianist Lisa Jura.  If one is a lover of classical music, with emphasis on the piano, attendance at a performance of “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is a must see.

Set in 1938 Vienna, the musical-play tells the story of Lisa Jura, a young, fourteen-year old Jewish pianist who is dreaming about her concert debut at the famous Musikverein concert hall.  But with the issuing of new ordinances under the Nazi regime, everything for Lisa changes, except for her love of music and the pursuit of her dream.  Featuring some of the world’s most beloved piano music played live, “The Pianist” is performer Mona Golabeck’s true family story, chronicling hope, survival, and how through the darkest of times, music has the power to help us survive.

Under the watchful and creative eye of play director Hershey Felder, a world-class concert pianist himself, and the acknowledged master of the one performer, musical storytelling genre, this inspirational life story of Lisa Jura, comes lovingly alive in a bravura and poignant performance by her daughter Mona Golabeck.

Music has the singular and unique power to galvanize emotions in a concert audience where each person is deeply and emotionally involved in the performance.  Add the elements of a live performer, the onstage concert of selections by the great composers, plus the placement of visual graphics projected on the set at key moments throughout the show, and one has a performance that will be remembered for a long, long, time.

The intimacy of the Kenis stage at the Geffen is the perfect venue to enjoy the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Schubert, and Grieg’s piano concerto wonderfully performed by Golabeck.

The technical credits for the production are also first-rate.  Scenic co-designers David Buess & Trevor Hay provide a space that is fully utilized by Golabeck without blocking a full view of the stage at all times.  Lighting designer Christopher Rynne’s proper mood lighting enhances the onstage focus, and the excellent sound design by Erik Carstensen, ably supports the play’s many story elements.  Co-projection designers Greg Sowizdrzal and Andrew Wilder, enrich the overall visual look of the production, not only with still photographs, but with live newsreel footage of the period, as well.  The production is a true collaborative effort.

“The Pianist of Willesden Lane” was scheduled to close on June 10th, but due to popular demand and brisk ticket sales, this wonderful show has now been extended to June 26th.  Don’t Miss It !!   For reservations and ticket information call the box office at 310-208-5454.