THE PIANIST: Music, Survival, and WWII's Resonance
Pictured Above: Daniel Donskoy. Photo Credit: Sourced from Daniel Donskoy’s Instagram.
NEWSROOM POST: NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY
New Brunswick, NJ – George Street Playhouse presents THE PIANIST, a play with music, based on the memoir “The Pianist” by Wladyslaw Szpilman and directed and adapted for the stage by Emily Mann (Broadway: A Streetcar Named Desire, Having Our Say, Anna and the Tropics). THE PIANIST begins previews on September 26, with an official opening night set for September 29. The play runs through October 22.
Presented in association with producers Michael Wolk, Kumiko Yoshii and Robin de Levita, THE PIANIST is a new stage adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s harrowing account of the annihilation of Jewish life in Warsaw during World War II and his remarkable survival through the transcendent power of music. Szpilman was the most acclaimed young musician of his time until his promising career was interrupted by the onset of World War II. He played the last live music heard over Polish radio airwaves before Nazi artillery hit. Though he escaped deportation, Szpilman was forced to live in the heart of the Warsaw ghetto. The play follows Szpilman’s heroic and inspirational journey of survival with the unlikely help of a sympathetic German officer.
Szpilman’s memoir inspired the 2002 Oscar-winning film starring Adrien Brody. THE PIANIST stars Ukrainian-Russian Jewish actor Daniel Donskoy (A Small Light; The Crown) as Wladyslaw Szpilman in his American stage debut and features Claire Beckman (The Torch-Bearers) as Mother, Austin Pendleton (Between Riverside and Crazy; The Minutes; The Little Foxes) as Father, Paul Spera (On The Basis of Sex) as Henryk, Arielle Goldman (The How and the Why) as Regina, Georgia Warner (Broadway: All My Sons) as Halina/Woman, Charlotte Ewing (Law and Order: SVU) as Magda/Boy, Tina Benko (Broadway: The Rose Tattoo) as Janina and others, Robert David Grant(Succession) as Majorek and others, and Jordan Lage (Broadway: Glengarry Glenross) as Jaworski.
Directed and adapted by Mann, the play features an original score by Iris Hond (headliner at the Royal Concert Hall in Amsterdam and New Church in The Hague) and choreography and assistant direction by Terry Berliner (The Lion King resident director; The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife). THE PIANIST has scenic design by Tony Award Winner Beowulf Boritt (New York, New York; Come From Away), lighting design by Japhy Weideman (Dear Evan Hansen; Shucked), costume design by Tony Award Winner Linda Cho (A Gentlemen’s Guide…; POTUS), co-sound design by Mark Bennett (The Coast of Utopia; Vanya and Sonia…) & Charles Coes (Sing Street; Golden Child), and video and projection design by S. Katy Tucker (Letters From Max; Elektra directed by Francesca Zambello).
THE PIANIST began its development at The McCarter Theatre Center, where Emily Mann served as Artistic Director and Resident Playwright from 1990–2020, and which was honored by the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre during her tenure. The play was first presented in 2017 as a reading. It was decided to augment the innate power of the piece with an original score, and in 2018, Iris Hond was retained as composer. That same year, THE PIANIST received a music and sound design workshop, where the score was integrated with beginnings of the complex, layered sound effects that Emily calls “a key character in the drama.” In 2020, Tony-winner Santino Fontana portrayed Wladyslaw Szpilman in a Zoom reading, which demonstrated the impact of the material even in a virtual setting. In June 2022, THE PIANIST had an intensive workshop at Manhattan’s Open Jar Studios to polish the script, create a distinctive “movement language” for the piece, and enhance the integration of the score and sound design with cutting edge immersive surround-sound technology. Tickets for THE PIANIST at George Street Playhouse, priced for $25-$70, are available at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.
Emily Mann has previously brought two impactful and influential documentary dramas to Broadway – Execution of Justice, and Having Our Say (Tony-nominated Best Play and Best Director). Also on Broadway, Emily directed A Streetcar Named Desire and Anna in the Tropics. Plays written by Mann include: Still Life; Annulla: An Autobiography; Greensboro (A Requiem); and Mrs. Packard. In 2020, her play Gloria: A Life was presented by Great Performances on PBS. From 1990-2020, Emily was the Artistic Director and Resident Playwright of McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey, which was honored with the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater under her leadership. The new biography by Alexis Greene, Emily Mann: Rebel Artist of the American Theater, celebrates her many contributions and innovations, highlighting her groundbreaking work in “the theater of testimony:” constructing a play based on the verbatim speech surrounding real life events. Awards include: Tony, Drama Desk, 8 Obies, Peabody, Hull Warriner, NAACP, Guggenheim, two Tony nominations, Outer Critics Circle nominations; a Princeton University Honorary Doctorate of Arts, a Helen Merrill Distinguished Playwrights’ Award, Margo Jones Award, TCG Visionary Leadership Award, Lilly Lifetime Achievement Award, and The Gordon Davidson Award. In 2019, Mann was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, and this fall, she will be inducted into The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Daniel Donskoy made his theatrical debut in London’s Camden Fringe Festival in 2014, and since then has performed at The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre, the Arcola Theatre, the Arts Theatre in the West End, the Garrick Theatre and the St James Theatre. He played the role of Jim O’Connor in The Glass Menagerie at the Nottingham Playhouse, and he also worked in London as a theater director, theater producer, and playwright. He played leading and guest roles in the British series “Detectorists, “Casualty,” and “Victoria.” From 2018 to 2020, Donskoy played the petty criminal and reluctant priest Maik Schäfer in the RTL series “Sankt Maik,” for which he was nominated for the Bavarian Television Award for Best Actor. In 2019, he played Israeli gangster Danny Dahan in the HBO series “Strike Back,” and in 2020, he played Princess Diana’s lover James Hewitt in the Netflix series “The Crown.” He released his first single “Cry By the River” and his debut EP “Didn’t I Say So,” in 2019, and played his first club tour through Germany. He is the host and moderator of the talk show “Freitagnacht Jews” (Friday Night Jews) which was awarded the German Television Prize 2021 and The Grimme Prize 2022. In 2021, he was the moderator of the German Film Prize. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, he tried to counter Russian war propaganda with the Russian song Net Vojne (“No to War”). He was the winner of season 7 of “The Masked Singer” in Germany and was the first Jewish entertainer to host the German Film Awards. The Pianist marks his American stage debut.
Wladyslaw Szpilman was a Polish pianist and classical composer of Jewish descent. Szpilman is widely known as the central figure in the 2002 Academy Award-winning film The Pianist, which was based on Szpilman’s autobiographical account of how he survived the German occupation of Warsaw and the Holocaust. Szpilman studied piano at music academies in Berlin and Warsaw. He became a popular performer on Polish radio and in concert. Confined within the Warsaw Ghetto after the German invasion of Poland, Szpilman spent two years in hiding. Towards the end of his concealment, he was helped by Wilm Hosenfeld, a German officer who detested Nazi policies. After World War II, Szpilman resumed his career on Polish radio. Szpilman was also a prolific composer; his work included hundreds of songs and many orchestral pieces.