Chicago Theatre Review
A Beautiful Tribute with The Pianist of Willesden Lane
By Lazlo Collins
Mona Golabek is a treasure for the ages. Her current appearance in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is an amazing story of survival and love.
The audience is curiously drawn in to her story. The story of her own mother, Lisa Jura, and her search for family and freedom in Europe during World War II is a remarkable one. Her love of her mother moves over the audience like a comforting blanket during the show. Ms. Golabek moves from place to place and character to character with ease. It feels as if she needs to tell this story or she will burst. Her passion for her heritage is clear.
Ms. Golabek is an accomplished pianist herself, having learned from her mother Lisa Jura. She moves to the piano periodically to accentuate the mood or story with a beautiful classic composition. There are moments while Ms. Golabek is playing the piano that are breathtaking.
The play is written and adapted by Hershey Felder from Lisa Jura’s account in Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen’s “The Pianist of Willesden Lane”. Mr. Felder is an accomplished musician producer and author in his own right. His touch on this piece is well done and lovely.
The story of Lisa Jura begins in segregated Vienna. They are Jewish family, and Germans have arrived. Lisa is sent away by her parents on the kinder train; a place secured by her father during a gambling game. Lisa must leave her two sisters and parents and go to London on the train. It is her heartbreak and her salvation. After some moving about, she ends up on Willesden Lane. This circumstance is life changing, and the grounding event for the gifted pianist. Like all the circumstances she has faced and will face ahead, it is a miraculous story of love not only of her family, but of the contestant solace of music.
When Mona Golabek first begins on the stage, she is stark, direct, and emotionless. She sets the stage to tell the story of her beloved mother. The lights change, and now she is her mother. As the play unfolds, Ms. Golabek begins to act out her mother’s story, and becomes the characters that interact with her mother’s character. She is a story teller of the most passionate kind. The material is close to her and the passion for telling it bubbles to the surface. You are on her every word as this 90 minute play unfolds.
The gilded framed set (David Buess/Trevor Hay) is utilized well. It supports the images of a time past with tasteful results.
This once in a lifetime show is important for many reasons. Not only is the story one that should be told over and over again. All must hear how lives were tossed, like seeds, in all directions; families torn apart and lives lost. It is a story of love of music, and piano that helped a young girl cope in such a difficult time. And finally, as the years move on, a real connection from mother to daughter to audience will be lost. Mona Golabek’s beautiful love letter to her mother is moving, and rich with moments that will resonate with all audience members for years to come.
Mona Golabek in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” runs through Sunday, May 12 at The Royal George Theatre.
For tickets please call 312-988-9000 or visit www.royalgeorgetheatre.com