When internationally-acclaimed storyteller and concert pianist Mona Golabek co-wrote the book The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival, the recounting of her own mother’s tale of hope during the Second World War, she never dreamed that she would travel the world sharing this story in a most unique fashion.
Seven years after the stage production called The Pianist of Willesden Lane debuted in Los Angeles, it will make its Montreal premiere from Sept. 8 to 29 at the Segal Centre. The fact it took this long is particularly surprising given the fact Montreal native and award-winning actor, author and piano virtuoso Hershey Felder, adapted the book as a musical.
This 90-minute musical is “unique” because it features Golabek performing — live on a Steinway concert piano — beloved music from great composers like Debussy, Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin while she shares her mother’s story of perseverance and survival.
“I owe this all to Hershey Felder,” Golabek told The Suburban in a telephone interview. “He gave me this opportunity to bring it to the world. I had reached out to him about the book, expressing my wish to turn it into a play. He was sufficiently moved and took a chance on me and it changed my life.”
Set in Vienna in 1938 and in London during the Blitz, it tells the inspirational story of Lisa Jura, a young Jewish pianist who is dreaming about her concert debut at Vienna’s storied Musikverein concert hall. However, with the issuing of new ordinances under the Nazi regime, everything changes for Lisa, except for her love of music and the pursuit of her dream.
With three daughters and only one passage to safety on the Kindertransport, the “children’s train” that rescued thousands of European children by bringing them to England, Lisa’s mother and father are confronted with a choice. Lisa is selected out of her sisters, separated from her family, and embarks on a moving journey as she strives to keep herself and her goals alive.
In 2003, 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.
“It has been astonishing to see the reaction of students worldwide,” Golabek said. “I feel so privileged to be breaking down walls all over the world.”
The Pianist of Willesden Lane plays at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine Rd.) Sept. 8 to 29. For more information call 514-514.739.7944 or log on to www.segalcentre.org