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The Pianist of Willesden Lane

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An elegy and a tribute, a concert and a play, a history lesson and a memoir: The Pianist of Willesden Lane on the Lyceum stage at San Diego’s Repertory Theatre scoops together all of those things and serves them on a gilded platter. Presiding over the tour de force is the maître de Mona Golabek, who in her one-woman show incorporates her personae as writer, adaptor, pianist, actress, and storyteller. Contradicting the usually accurate admonition that multi-tasking equals multi-mediocre tasking, Golabek proves the exception. This is simply a wonderful production, in many ways.

Way one: the story itself.  The plot focuses on Lisa Jura, a young Jewish pianist in pre-Holocaust Vienna, dreaming of a concert career and an upcoming concert hall debut. But new Nazi laws disrupt her lessons and her dreams, putting the family in danger. When her gambler father wins a ticket on the famed Kindertransport and Lisa is the daughter chosen to redeem it, her life becomes a very different journey. How she finds her way to London’s Willesden Lane, survives the bombings, acquires a piano, and reclaims her destiny is a tale of courage and resourcefulness, as well as talent. That it is a true tale makes this a triumphant chronicle.

Way two: Mona Golabek.  She brings her mother, Lisa Jura, to life with such heart, humor, and humanity that the façade of acting disappears. She draws us into her existence, time, and place so thoroughly that the lights coming up at final are a jolt into the present.

Way three: Hershey Felder’s adaptation and direction. The play is adapted from Golabek’s book, The Children of Willesden Lane, which contains the same essential plotlines and characters. What the book cannot do, however, is bring the power of the heroine’s beautiful piano playing of choice classical favorites to life. Maestro Felder premiered this production in April 2012, and his deft touches reflect in the timing of each piece. Edvard Grieg’s "Piano Concerto in A Minor" is a focal point of the play, and other magnificent classical works, including Beethoven’s "Moonlight Sonata," showcase the expertise of the heroine and her daughter.

Ways many more: the technical aspects that include Andrew Wilder and Greg Sowizdrzal’s projections selected from historical archives onto huge golden picture frames, Trevor Hay and Hershey Felder’s gilded staging, and Jaclyn Maduff’s costuming that affirms the character and adapts to each scene all mesh. Add to all that technical proficiency Erik Carstensen’s explicit sound and Christopher Rynne’s faithful lighting, which produce the London blitz air raids and bombings in stark and shocking reality.

But why keep counting? This show is simply a superb feast that showcases the best of what live performance has to offer. To miss taking part in it is to lose out on one of the Rep’s best offerings, maybe ever, but certainly this year.

Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane” runs through October 12 on San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Stage in Horton Plaza.

Performances are: Tues-Weds & Sun at 7:00 pm; Thurs-Sat at 8:00 pm; Sat & Sun matinees at 2:00 pm.

Reservations at: 619-544-1000 or www.sdrep.org.

Four hours free parking will be validated at the theatre. Tickets are: $18-$75, with discounts for groups, seniors and military.


 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.