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A storyteller on the Steinway: Acclaimed pianist returns to DC at Theater J


After a sold-out run at Kennedy Middle 4 years in the past, pianist Mona Golabek makes her triumphant return to DC in The Pianist of Willesden Lane, one of the vital highly effective performances in Theater J’s historical past. Ravelle Brickman spoke together with her.

Initially printed September 24, 2018

Should you hear shouts of “bravo” on the Kennedy Middle this week, there’s a great probability they’re not coming from the Opera Home.

That’s as a result of the sound might be emanating from a unique a part of the Middle, specifically the Household Theater, the place Theater J’s much-acclaimed manufacturing of The Pianist of Willesden Lane is nearing the top of its painfully brief DC debut.

The play, which opened simply 10 days in the past (click on right here for final week’s rave evaluation), is the story of an excellent live performance pianist, Lisa Jura, who escaped from Vienna after Kristallnacht in 1938.

Lisa, who was simply 14, obtained out as a result of her dad and mom have been capable of get her a seat on the Kindertransport—the evacuation of Jewish youngsters from Nazi-occupied Europe—which then delivered her into the arms of a welcoming British public.

Mona Golabek in ‘The Pianist of Willesden Lane.’ Picture courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents.

Presiding over this one-woman present is Mona Golabek, the daughter of Lisa Jura, who simply occurs to be a live performance pianist as effectively. (After all, it helps that Mona can be a tremendous actor, storyteller, mimic and music instructor).

The present is tailored from Mona’s best-selling biography of her mom, The Youngsters of Willesden Lane: Past the Kindertransport (written with Lee Cohen and first printed in 2002). Within the e-book, she factors out that Lisa—who had been a toddler prodigy in Vienna, planning her debut on the main live performance corridor—had the great luck to land at 243 Willesden Lane.

It was a modest home within the north of London, the place a benevolent Brit named Mrs. Cohen taken care of 32 youngsters in such shut quarters that she referred to them as her “sardines.” With all of the crowding, there was room for a tremendous piano, and Lisa practiced each day.

The present—which strikes not one, however many chords—is a wonderful evocation of the phobia of battle, the resilience of younger folks and the ability of phrases and music intertwined.  

I spoke to Mona Golabek shortly earlier than the present opened. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” I stated. “Who put the items collectively?”

Hershey Felder,” she replied, naming the well-known pianist, playwright, composer, producer, and director. “Hershey is sensible. He’s made an artwork type of combining storytelling with music,” she added, explaining that he actually created the present by adapting it from her e-book, pairing the music and phrases after which directing each side of the manufacturing.

Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane. Photo courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents.
Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane. Picture courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents.

The star of half a dozen exhibits that includes the phrases and music of Gershwin, Bernstein, Beethoven and others, Hershey’s latest present, Hershey Felder on Irving Berlin, is taking part in now in New York.

Mona met Hershey in 2010 when a colleague took her to see one in every of his exhibits on the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Impressed, she known as the pianist-actor-writer the following day and requested him for recommendation. He responded by asking her to come back to his studio and carry out. She did.

To her astonishment, he instantly took her underneath his wing, introducing her to an entire new world.  

The Pianist of Willesden Lane had its world premiere two years later and has since gone on to sold-out performances in cities around the globe. (It took six years, and Theater J, to convey it to Washington, DC).

Again in 2010, and for a few decade earlier than that, Mona—a long-time champion of classical music—had been the creator and host of a radio program on which she performed the music of the nice 19th century composers and skim aloud from diaries, letters, and poems that make clear the secrets and techniques of those musical heroes.

The present was syndicated by the WFMT Radio Community to about 90 stations, together with many public radio shops in cities around the globe. (I listened to it on WQXR-FM in New York).

“The music in The Pianist will likely be acquainted to anybody who has ever taken piano classes,” Mona defined. “Sadly, there’s a dwindling viewers for classical music. I believe that’s as a result of children are accustomed to having music accompanied by lyrics. So we’re giving them a narrative to go along with the music.”

She selected each bit—the Grieg Piano Concerto, the Chopin and Beethoven sonatas, the Debussy—to inform a unique a part of the story. And one can virtually hear the bombs falling within the thundering chords in addition to the whispers of adolescent love within the mild notes of a Bach partita.

“Youngsters all around the world are impressed by this story,” she stated. She urges theater-goers to convey their youngsters, 11 and older, to the present.

“This play just isn’t concerning the Holocaust,” she stated. “It’s about refugees. And it’s particularly about these refugees”—all unaccompanied minors—”who have been rescued by the Kindertransport and settled in London. In a approach, this present is my ‘thanks observe’ to the British folks.”   

I spoke to Theater J’s Creative Director Adam Immerwahr on Yom Kippur—the Jewish Day of Atonement—at Temple Sinai, the place he was collaborating in a panel dialogue on theater immediately.   

He agreed utterly with Mona’s evaluation.

“As performs concerning the ‘Shoah’ go, this present is basically hopeful.  It’s about welcoming the strangers at your door, and saying, ‘we’ll allow you to in, and we’ll aid you.’ It’s about immigration, and what it means to people who find themselves oppressed.”

Once I requested why he selected The Pianist of Willesden Lane to open the 2018-19 season at Theater J, he laughed. It was a no brainer, he implied.

“The venue dictated the selection,” he stated. “We knew we have been going to be on the Kennedy Middle this month, so we needed one thing worthy of an excellent live performance corridor. A live performance pianist match the invoice.”  

And why the Kennedy Middle?

The reply is easy. Theater J is briefly homeless, as a result of renovation of its longtime sponsor, the 92-year-old Edlavitch DC Jewish Neighborhood Middle. Performances for the remainder of the season will likely be at Area Stage, GALA Hispanic Theatre and Georgetown College’s Davis Performing Arts Middle.

Operating Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane performs December 6 to 18, 2022, at Theater J on the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater within the Edlavitch DC Jewish Neighborhood Middle, 1529 sixteenth Road NW, Washington, DC. Buy tickets ($44–$85) on-line or by calling the ticket workplace at 202-777-3210.

COVID Security: All patrons within the Goldman Theater are required to put on masks protecting their nostril and mouth. Solely performers and friends invited onstage could also be unmasked. Masks are non-compulsory however inspired within the Q Road and sixteenth Road lobbies, hallways, and different public areas. For extra data, go to Theater J’s COVID Security Tips.

A postscript:
I spoke to Mona Golabek proper after the marriage of her niece, Sarah Golabek Goldman, to Dr. Michael Goldstein. Sarah, who’s a lawyer at Williams Connolly, is now carrying the torch, protecting the reminiscence of Lisa Jura, her dad and mom and grandparents, alive.

In 2007, Sarah, then a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford, traveled to Poland in the hunt for her great-great-grandparents. She subsequently produced a documentary known as Discovering Leah Tickotsky—about discovering her great-great-grandmother’s grave—which was aired on Bialystok TV and is now out there from the Nationwide Middle for Jewish Movie.

Lisa Jura’s dad and mom—Malka, a pianist who taught her daughter to play, and Abraham, who risked his life to get the seat on the Kindertransport—died at Auschwitz. 

Like Lisa Jura, Dr. Ruth Westheimerwhose story, Turning into Dr. Ruth, was produced at Theater J earlier this yrwas additionally saved due to the Kindertransport. Learn my interview with Dr. Ruth right here.

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