The Pianist of Willesden Lane (San Diego REP)

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Where did San Diego REP find an actress who plays the piano brilliantly? Mona Golabek is amazing, and her one-woman play, The Pianist of Willesden Lane, is filled with gratitude, honor, and passion. It’s storytelling at its best as Golabek narrates part of her Jewish heritage with a grand piano in a supporting role.

The piano sits center stage with a gleam of light hitting its open lid, simply waiting to be played. The large gold picture frames that surround it soon hold projected images of film and photos. From family portraits, to bookshelves, to a train station, to footage of WWII.

Golabek plays the role of her mother, Lisa Jura, and creatively uses her voice to characterize those who were part of her mother’s upbringing. Each classical composition played is fine tuned to represent Jura’s growth and love of music. When not seated on the piano bench, Golabek moves across the stage revealing her mother’s escape on the Kindertransport, a train that transported Jewish children out of Nazi territory. Her journey ends at a hostel in London on Willesden Lane, where long lasting friendships are made and the dream of becoming a pianist is fulfilled.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane is based on the book, The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen. Adapted and directed by Hershey Felder.

Mona-Golabek

Theatre Geek and Mona Golabek.

The Book of Mormon (Broadway San Diego)

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There’s no need to be a fan of South Park to enjoy the 2011 Tony award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon. This religious musical satire follows two young Mormon men to Uganda for missionary work. They soon discover that spreading the Latter Day Saint’s doctrine isn’t as easy as they had thought, especially when the local villagers are more concerned with threats to their own safety from AIDS, corrupt militia, and female genital mutilation. Joining an Elder group already assigned to Uganda, the two newbies, Elder Price (James David Larson) and Elder Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), believe that if the natives give the Mormon faith a chance, they will convert.

The mission goes awry when Price, who wishes he were assigned to Orlando, bails on the group, and goofball Cunningham (who is a cross between the personas of Jonah Hill and Chris Farley) is put on the spot to preach The Book to the locals. There’s only one problem, Cunningham hasn’t read the entire book. He fakes it until he makes it, bringing in dogma from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. Cunningham’s teachings are of another allegiance, but certainly one that’s a lot more fun and, quite frankly, ridiculous. Just imagine what happens when the locals perform a skit of what they learned for the Mormon review committee. All hell breaks loose, but the two tribes come together for a happy ending.

Creators Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone bring in some crude humor and profanity. Their use of naïve and nerdy Mormon men uniting with lively Africans will get you to smile and laugh, making for an entertaining show.

Even the delivery of lines, lyrics, and choreography is well thought out and gives a bit of playfulness to the overall musical, especially in “Turn It Off”, when the Elders explain how to manage so-called negative feelings, like dealing with an abusive parent and thoughts of being gay. Turning your thoughts off like a light switch is their simple answer. Completely ridiculous, but then again, that’s the point.

The set and costumes were not overdone, which made it easy to follow the storyline and not get distracted by an elaborate production.

The cast was outstanding and Cody Jamison Strand gave a funny and energetic performance.