Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Pianist of Willesden Lane: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"The Pianist of Willesden Lane" has everything: glorious music, terrible Nazis, a well-meaning heroine, an interesting historical setting and, towering above all this, Bach. Beethoven, Debussy, Scriabin and Grieg.

But there is one niggle. Solo performer and co-writer Mona Golabek is brilliant while she is sitting at the piano, but somewhat less so when not. Her monologues are mannered. Golabek plays piano with a fire that, if transferred to her storytelling, would boost her show to another level.

Regardless, "Willesden Lane" is a joy, because we get long sections of spectacular pianism. We would recommend the show to anyone who wants to grab a feeling of what this musical canon has provided for so many generations of people. Yes, you will cry. Yes, you will leave the theater humming the beginning to Ode to Joy. Yes, you will feel lifted, as have audiences around the world, where the show has played to sellout crowds and standing ovations. Yes, they are making a movie.

And yes, says the San Francisco Theater Blog's resident curmudgeon, me. It could still be much more.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Mona Golabek's musicianship earns three stars all by herself. She earns a BANGLE for the way she played Claire de Lune with such grace while never stopping her narration. And we loved the segment where she plays along to an old film clip of Dame Myra Hess. Very touching stuff.

Sometimes, a show feels smaller than its venue. "Willesden Lane" makes us long for a small cabaret and a performer not forced to walk up and down artificial stage constructs in order to fill up space. Every moment away from the piano for Mona Golabek is a moment wasted.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA
EXTENDED through Feb. 16

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