pianoworldwide, youtube.com

A Heart-wrenching blend of Music and Memoir

Stage before Golabek performance

A one-woman show playing at the Berkeley Rep (adapted and directed by Hershey Felder) is so emotionally riveting that it must reach Broadway and beyond.

In The Pianist of Willesden Lane, Mona Golabek weaves a dramatic wartime story in music and words, producing a unique theatrical experience.

With the expressive framing of the Grieg Piano Concerto, Golabek retraces her mother, Lisa Jura’s life at a poignant juncture–when her childhood dreams of becoming a concert pianist are “interrupted by the Nazi regime.” In a Kindertransport from Vienna to London that’s arranged by her Jewish parents following Kristallnacht (November 9, 1938), the 14-year old is painfully separated from a nest of familial love and cultural wealth. Yet she “holds on to the piano” as a vestige of hope through a series of emotionally challenging ordeals.

These include include housing relocations, and journeys from tedious factory sewing to entrance at the Royal Academy of Music. In every personal life transition Lisa makes, her mother, (also a pianist and once her teacher) is spiritually present to reinforce the power and beauty of music to ensure survival. It’s a message she embedded in her daughter’s psyche before their separation.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane

The epic Grieg Piano concerto is thematically woven through 90 minutes of captivating theater. It’s revealed in Golabek’s introduction as Lisa’s concert debut wish fulfillment. (LIVE music gushes forth from a concert Steinway in pulsating waves with sequenced portraits of family and wartime events. These light up the stage in an impressive multi-media display)

stage and pics

As the narrative unfolds, Willesden Lane becomes the most settling nest for Jura amidst her relocations. It’s where she finds a treasured basement piano that becomes the hub for enduring friendships and emotional support—a springboard to a life of musical recognition at the Royal Academy and a paid playing opportunity at a lavish Hotel. A wealth of admirers follow.

Golabek, a sensitive pianist and convincing actress, intersperses her mother’s memoir with generous servings of Grieg’s composition to bravura levels at dramatic moments where needed, while she liquidly turns a phrase in poetic mood shifts. Almost beyond belief is her ability to brave technically challenging pianistic terrain, while simultaneously spinning the events of Jura’s life in vivid detail.

An astounding pianistic interpreter, Mona Golabek reveals musical insights that exceed the bounds of any specific historical era. In the course of her solo performance, she delivers the works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin with musical depth and profound expression. Selections, including the Moonlight Sonata, Chopin’s E minor Prelude, Claire de Lune, the Grieg Concerto, etc., are revisited in a memorable CD that I purchased post performance and had instantly autographed. (The proceeds fund scholarships and other worthy causes)

Mona Golabek and me cropped 4

Without a doubt, Golabek would make her mother proud by this living, breathing, musically draped memoir. Technique, expression, emotion, nuance, are all bundled together in a perfect theatrical framing, making the Pianist of Willesden Lane, not only a gift to Berkeley, but one that is boundless in its reach.


A post-performance audience interactive with Mona

Golabek post perf animated

Mona Golabek cropped solo

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the book, The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.

The Berkeley Rep is located at Addison off Shattuck.
For tickets, telephone, 510-647-2949

Hold on to your Music Foundation

6 thoughts on “A Heart-wrenching blend of Music and Memoir”

    1. Audience members mentioned this, and I think Mona has something in the works which may also lead to a film.
      I think her LIVE playing is what makes this so emotionally riveting. And that playing is incredibly gorgeous in every aspect.. jaw-dropping, poignant, reaching right into the hearts and souls of listeners.. add in the “feel” she has for her mother’s life with its impassioned twists and turns. Frankly, I’ve never heard the Grieg played as beautifully.. I could listen to this woman play for hours, days and months.


  1. From a friend who joined me on this theatrical outing:
    “Everything – the acting AND pianism of Mona Golabek (playing Lisa Jura, her mother), the coordination between her piano playing and the dubbed orchestral part of the Grieg concerto, and the ingenious use of enormous gilded picture frames to show scenes illustrating her narrative – made for a very satisfying emotional and educational experience.”


  2. I saw the performance the week it opened and loved it so much I’m taking a friend again next Saturday!

    I made sure to read The Children of Willesden Lane beforehand, which I highly recommend, if you haven’t read it already. (There are many contradictions, though, between the book and the play, and I would love to get the chance to inquire about where the truth actually lies.)


    1. Thanks for sharing. I think it’s not only a sensitive memoir, but the level of Mona’s pianistic artistry is to the exponential. I purchased the CD, and appreciated hearing many of the works to completion. I will definitely look into acquiring the book.


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