In the music-filled narrative “The Pianist from Willesden Lane,” opening this week in Mountain View, Mona Golabek tells the story of her mother, Lisa Jura, a young Jewish musician enduring the plights of World War II and the Holocaust.
Golabek traces her mother’s escape from Vienna to a children’s home in London, aboard the Kindertransport. Intertwining classic piano pieces with her 14-year-old mother’s memories, Golabek shows how hope, resilience and music can empower individuals to persist through life’s challenges and pursue their dreams.
Hershey Felder directs the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production. It is scheduled to preview today through Friday, open Saturday and run through Feb. 16 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.
Golabek is an internationally recognized actor, author, radio host and concert pianist (taught by her mother).
Edvard H. Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor – which she performs in the show – has special meaning to Golabek. She said her mother dreamed of making her professional debut performing the piece, which inspired Golabek when she played it at an early concert.
“I have no idea what got ahold of me,” Golabek said. “But I decided that if I could write a book, if I could get a movie made, if I could do something, I could really (expose) thousands of young readers and students and people to powerful messages.”
In 2003, Golabek and Cohen published “The Children of Willesden Lane.” Afterward, Golabek collaborated with Felder, an accomplished musician and artist who has performed sold-out shows at TheatreWorks, to adapt the book into a show. After two years, the finished product debuted in 2012 as a cross between a musical and a play, in which Golabek performs classical pieces while simultaneously narrating and re-enacting her mother’s journey.
“I don’t think I would have the same impact if I didn’t have the piano and that music. … Music is the secret arrow that enters our hearts,” Golabek said. “It’s the music that really brings it all alive.”
While it is a one-woman show, Golabek sees her piano as a co-star also playing an integral character in her mother’s story. Since its debut, the show has reached theaters in Israel, Europe, Zimbabwe, Canada and across the U.S.
“The majority of people who line up to talk when I signed books afterward say, ‘Thank you. You told my story.’ ... or ‘You told the story of someone that I knew that I grew up with.’ I believe that my mother’s story is a universal story that touches the hearts of so many people (because) we all have in our background the themes of prejudice, bigotry, discrimination (and) loss,” Golabek said.
She added that the story has inspired others: “That seems to be the rallying cry that young kids say: If Lisa could do it, I can do it.”
Even with repeated performances, the show remains as fresh as it was seven years ago, according to Golabek, who is still grateful to have the opportunity to share her mom’s message.
“I’m always so fond of saying … to these young kids, you’re looking at someone who had a dream and never gave up. Not only was it my mother’s dream, but then it was my dream,” Golabek said. “I went through a lot of rejection (but) was able to ultimately get a book published, (and with the help of Hershey Felder, gained) the opportunity to bring this story to the world.”
For times, tickets and more information, call 463-1960 or visit theatreworks.org.