On and Off Broadway

'Pianist of Willesden Lane'

Review by Elyse Trevers


I never thought I’d heartily recommend another show about the Holocaust, yet after seeing Pianist of Willesden Lane last night, I found myself online urging friends to see it before it ends its limited run. The show is a true story about Lisa Jura, a young Austrian girl caught up in the events of World War II. Getting only one ticket on the Kindertransport, her parents had to chose among three children for the train to London and freedom. Because of her piano prowess, they chose Lisa.

The play is her story, told by her daughter, Mona Golabek, herself a noted pianist. Though not unfamiliar, the story is moving, not because of the family relationship but because of the role of music in her life. The music is heard throughout the entire play. In fact, Golabek plays more than she speaks and the playlist is a music lover’s dream, ranging from Grieg and Rachmaninoff to Bach and Debussy with a little Gershwin tossed in. It is like a classical music concert on East 59th Street. Golabek plays on the gleaming Steinway that sits center stage. The small theater enables audience members to watch her fingers fly over the keyboard and marvel at her playing totally from memory even as she delivers her lines.

Ms. Golabek is onstage throughout the entire 90 minutes of the play. She portrays her mother from age 14 on and attempts accents to suggest the important people in her life, beginning with her beloved piano teacher in Vienna who turns her away when the Germans declare it illegal to teach Jews. Some of her accents are fine, other not as good. Images are projected in picture frames behind the performer to give added depth to her stories.

Lisa Jura was chosen to survive because of the music. She met her future husband because of her music. The audience is entertained, enthralled and moved because of the music. The play is a short run and scheduled to end in a few weeks, so I suggest you call soon for tickets.