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Compelling THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE at Cleveland Play House

Compelling THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE at Cleveland Play House

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle)

It is the intent of theater to educate and entertain, and, in the case of some special offerings, enrapture.  Such a piece of theater is THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, now on stage at Cleveland Play House.

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, adapted and directed by pianist and musicologist Hershey Felder, tells the tale of Lisa Jura, mother of renowned pianist Mona Golabek, and overcoming great trauma to achieve her artistic goals.

Educate:   The Kindertransport was a rescue mission which, over a period of nine months, prior to the outbreak of the World War II, allowed about 10,000, mainly Jewish children from central Europe, to go to England and be housed in foster homes, hostels, schools and farms.  As it turned out, these youth were some of  the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust.

Lisa Jura was denied continuing piano lessons under the tutelage of her piano professor when the Nazis declared that Jews should not be educated by non-Jews.  Deportation of “Juden” from Vienna was escalating, Jewish places of business, including Lisa’s father’s tailor shop, were destroyed.  While gambling to make money to feed and keep his family, her father won a ticket for the Kindertransport which allowed one of his three daughters to escape to freedom.

At age 14, musically talented Lisa was the child chosen to leave. This action not not only gave her the opportunity to continue her musical journey, but saved her life.

Just before Lisa got on the train, her mother said, “You must promise me that you will hold onto your music.  It will be the best friend you ever have. I will be with you every step of the way when you’re playing that music.”  How prophetic she was!

Entertain:  Golabek, in a one-woman presentation, plays the piano and portrays not only herself but Lisa, who relates, in a first-person narrative, the tale of escape, adjustment to a new culture, and how she continued to develop her piano skills.  We share Lisa’s relationships, attempts to keep in contact with her parents, and pass on the family’s history, as she marries, has children, and not only teaches them to play the piano, but ties the music of the great composers to her life story.

Enrapture:  Mona Golabek’s ability to emotionally connect to the audience, to grab and hold attention, and to perform superbly, makes for a mesmerizing evening of theatre.  She masterfully incorporates the works of Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy into telling the tale of the lives of her mother and herself.  This is not only a play, but a fine concert.

Director/adapter Hershey Felder, has been seen on stage at CPH performing his one-man shows including GEORGE GERSHWIN ALONE, BEETHOVEN, AS I KNEW HIM and MAESTRO BERNSTEIN, in which he combined acting and piano performance.  He has developed in THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, a show that flows easily, is well paced, and fills the 90-minutes with fascinating tales and musicals delights.

Some advice:  You might be sure to bring some Kleenex along to wipe away the tears!

CAPSULE JUDGMENT:  THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE is a special theatrical and musical event.  An absolute “must see,” the script and the production educate, entertain and enrapture!  Kudos to  Mona Golabek and Hershey Felder for creating an experience that viewers will long remember.

THE PIANIST OF WILLESEN LANE runs through March 22, 2015, at the Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.  For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to

Next up at CPH:  VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, April 3-26.  To read my Broadway review of that show go to:, on the right side of the page scroll to Broadway shows, click on the link, scroll down to find VANYA, AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE.