The Music of Willesden Lane
Updated: Feb 15, 2020
TheatreWorks' first show of 2020, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, is a beautiful exploration of love, music and resilience, set against a backdrop of London in the Second World War. In this one-woman show, phenomenal pianist Mona Golabeck uses timeless music to tell the remarkable true story of how her mother survived WWII.
Golabek follows in the footsteps of her mentor and director, Hershey Felder, by telling a story at a piano, where the music is an integral part of the show. In this case, she is telling the story of her own mother, Lisa Jura. Golabek begins the story with a short introduction to her own life and personal connection to the story before stepping into her mother's shoes and taking a seat at the piano.
As a child, Jura was sent on the Kindertransport, a train system that evacuated more than 10,000 children from continental Europe to the U.K. as the Nazi party rose to power. The show follows Jura as she takes the train, carves out a space for herself at various foster homes and uses music to stay resilient through one of the most harrowing times in modern history.
Is it a good show? Yes. Is it a show you just can't miss? No.
Overall, the show is middle of the road. If you are fond of this style of show and have loved Hershey Felder's performances at TheatreWorks in the past, then you will likely love this show too. It puts a personal twist on the format by telling such a personal story to the performer and Golabek's piano performances are just as spellbinding as Felder's. The show utilizes the space extremely well including using historical film footage in the backdrop to set the scene and illustrate a specific time and place to perfection.
If you're looking for a great concert that happens to tell you a moving and emotional story, then this show will fit the bill perfectly. If you're hoping for more of a great one-woman show... it's less satisfying.
The biggest drawback of the show is that Golabek is just not a very convincing actress. Although her skill at the piano is undeniable and her accent work is impressive, the portions of the show where she is simply acting out a story feel forced and trite. It is obvious that Golabek feels most comfortable when she is at the piano, and any moment when she steps away ends up feeling less authentic as a result. Also, the way that the story is concluded feels rushed and as if she tried to fit too much extra story into too little time. The stumble of story pacing isn't a deal-killer for me, but it ultimately undermined what was otherwise a very well-told story.
Ultimately, if you love theater, I think you'll enjoy this show. It has great lighting and set design, Golabek’s music is fabulous and the story is engaging. However, if you only want to go to a few shows a year, this is not the ticket I'd buy.
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of The Pianist of Willesden Lane is playing now through February 16, 2020 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street. Tickets range $30-$100 with discounts available to educators, seniors, active military and patrons 35 and under. The show runs about an hour and a half with no intermission.
Photos courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents