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The Pianist of Willesden Lane at The Segal Centre – History, Music, Storytelling, Tribute and Education… All in a One-Woman Show

I don’t even know where to begin. My husband and I saw the Hershey Felder Presents production of The Pianist of Willesden Lane last night at the Segal Centre and in a nutshell, this one-woman show serves up history, music, storytelling, tribute and education all in the same package.

The show stars Mona Golabek who shares the inspirational story of her mother, Lisa Jura, a young Jewish pianist who is dreaming about her concert debut at Vienna’s storied Musikverein concert hall. New ordinances under the Nazi regime change everything for Lisa, except for her love of music and the pursuit of her dream.

Mona Golabek is not only a Grammy-nominated pianist but she is also a master storyteller.  She manages to draw the audience back to Vienna and then London to experience her mother’s journey using  using her voice, a simple yet spectacular set, some multimedia projection and a Steinway concert piano. Her multi-faceted talent is remarkable. She has chosen to dedicate her talent to telling her mother’s story  serves both as a form of tribute as well as to educate people around the world about life in Europe during the time of the Nazis. This is something deserving of tremendous respect.

The show is based on the book The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival by Golabek and Lee Cohen. The Children of Willesden Lane.  The book, now in its 24th printing, has been translated and published in eight languages.

In 2003, Ms. Golabek founded the Hold On To Your Music Foundation. With the help of the Milken Family Foundation, Facing History and Ourselves, and the Annenberg Foundation, she created educational resources for the book that have been adopted into school curricula across America. To date, more than 400,000 students and families have experienced the WILLESDEN READ – the educational mission, spearheaded by the non-profit, that is devoted to spreading the message of her mother’s story. Not going to lie, hearing Ms. Golabek share this last part on stage last night brought me to tears.

The story is is both sad and inspirational. Watching Ms. Golabek’s fingers dance across the keys of the Steinway is something to see (and hear). There are even quite a few laughs in the show, but what struck me the most is how well Mona Golabek tells the story and brings all of its characters to life…all by herself.

As always, I will be perfectly honest: there were a few times where things felt a little ‘slow’, but that is because she shares the whole story…and in the end, I am so grateful to have experienced this show and so very appreciative that Ms. Golabek has dedicated her incredible talents to sharing this story with students all over the world through her book, with so many audiences on stage and finally with us here in Montreal, on the stage of the Segal Centre for Performing Arts through September 29th.

As someone who participated in the first-ever March of the Living in 1988, I feel it is important for all of us to listen to stories of survival while there are still survivors to tell them. Mona Golabek has immortalized her mother’s story of survival and together with Hershey Felder, found a masterful way to share that story, a story that deserves to be told…and heard.

Want to hear it for yourself?  You can click here to get more information and / or to purchase tickets.

I’d love to hear what you think when you do.


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