The UK première of The Pianist of Willesden Lane opens at the St. James’s Theatre London on 20 January 2016 and runs until 27 February.
Set in Vienna in 1938 and in London during the Blitz, this moving play tells the true story of Lisa Jura, a young Jewish pianist whose dream of a concert debut at Vienna’s Musikverein concert hall seems a distant hope when the Nazi regime forbids her music tutor to teach Jewish students and destroys her father’s tailoring business.
Taking to gambling to keep his family afloat, her father has a lucky win at cards and purchases a single ticket on the kindertransport, the ‘children’s trains’ supported by British charities that moved thousands of European children to safety in England. Leaving her two sisters behind, Lisa initially joins her father’s cousin’s family in London, but when they move to a new home she is forced to enter a communal house for children of the kindertransport on Willesden Lane, run by the stern Mrs Cohen. She earns her living as a pianist at a hotel frequented by soldiers and, when the war cuts off all communication with Europe, music is her only means of sustaining a connection to her lost childhood and her family in Vienna.
The role of Lisa Jura is played by her real-life daughter, Mona Golabek, who is herself a concert pianist, and the play incorporates piano classics by Bach and Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov, Grieg and Debussy, performed by Golabek on a Steinway, centre-stage, as she tell her true family story.
Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder – author and performer of George Gershwin Alone on Broadway – The Pianist of Willesden Lane 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. Selected as the New York Times’ Critics Choice when it appeared in New York, the play has since enjoyed critically acclaimed sell-out runs in Chicago, Boston, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego.