mona golabek

A chat with the pianist of Willesden Lane

In a break from her busy career and performances at Portland Center Stage, Mona Golabek tells the tale of her mother's extraordinary tale

By ALICE HARDESTY

Anyone who loves music, fine acting, or just a good story, must be sure to see The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running through June 29 at Portland Center Stage. People who saw it a year ago are coming back to get another dose of heroism set to Grieg, Chopin, and Rachmaninov, in a one-woman show expertly played and acted by Mona Golabek.

I had recently read Golabek’s book and I was eager to interview her for Oregon Arts Watch. Her book, The Children of Willesden Lane, tells the story of her mother, Lisa Jura, who, as a 14 year-old, escaped the terrors of Nazism and managed to develop her musical career despite incredible obstacles. Children like Lisa fled Hitler on the Kindertransport — trains that carried Jewish children from Germany and Austria to safety in England. The English, especially the Quakers, were very kind to the children, but were suffering their own deprivations and could not offer them much beyond subsistence. Lisa Jura’s story and her daughter’s portrayal of it provide inspiration in an otherwise gloomy time.

Mona Golabek in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.” Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

I caught Golabek at a momentary lull in her busy schedule. I turned on the speaker- phone and propped up my digital recorder, acknowledging that we’d be fine as long as my cat didn’t knock them over. (I knew she had a soft spot for animals.)

Continues…

A cozy chat with Hershey Felder

The "Irving Berlin" creator and star talks about life, politics, the return of "Willesden Lane," and his New Year's Eve singalong at the Armory

By ALICE HARDESTY

If you’re feeling the holiday blues or post-election anxiety, or you’re depressed by a seemingly irreparable schism in the American population, you should come to Portland Center Stage to see and hear Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin. Come before the show closes on Friday. Or even if you’ve seen it already, come to the big Great American Songbook Singalong on New Year’s Eve. You will, once again, feel the warmth of community. You’ll see the son of Jewish immigrants call up the life of an iconic Jewish immigrant in song, piano music, and storytelling. At times you can sing along, softly or lustily, as have many audiences before you. And you may shed a few tears. But for sure, you’ll leave with a smile and a warm heart.

Hershey Felder in the world premiere production of “Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” at Geffen Playhouse in 2014. Photo by Eighty Eight Entertainment.

On the recent Winter Solstice I had a warm conversation in a chilly Green Room with Felder, with occasional input from his director, Trevor Hay, and enthusiastic listening from PCS’s Claudie Jean Fisher. We touched on everything from the rigorous schedule of daily performances, to music and humanity, to the current state of nation.

Continues…

‘The Pianist of Willesden Lane’ and ‘The Overview Effect’: Solo flights

A pair of theater and music combinations aim high but don't always run deep

Lisa Jura was an amazing woman. In the wake of the Nazis’ horrific November 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, her Viennese parents sent her to relative safety in England as part of the Kindertransport program that saved thousands of children’s lives. The teenaged piano prodigy, who knew no one in England and brought only a single suitcase with some clothes and sheet music, survived a Blitz bombing that leveled the overcrowded London home for Jewish refugees she’d talked her way into. She took a job at a garment factory sewing soldiers’ uniforms, then leveraged her pianistic skills into a scholarship at the nation’s most prestigious music school before moving to America and eventually having a daughter who became a concert pianist herself.

That daughter, Mona Golabek, stars in the one-woman tribute to her indomitable mother, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, which runs through May 1 at Portland Center Stage. Directed and adapted from Golabek’s book, The Children of Willesden Lane (written with Lee Cohen), by the veteran composer/ performer/ theater artist Hershey Felder, the production achieves Golabek’s primary goals: making audiences appreciate her mother’s extraordinary story, and raising funds and attention for her admirable educational foundation.

Mona Golabek stars in 'The Pianist of Willesden Lane' at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/ blankeye.tv.

Mona Golabek stars in ‘The Pianist of Willesden Lane’ at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/ blankeye.tv.

What the show, which features Golabek as narrator and pianist, does not do is add much emotional depth or understanding to this lesser known but important chapter of the story of humanity’s greatest horror.

Continues…