The autobiographical account of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman—which was the basis of “The Pianist,” the 2002 Academy Award-winning film starring Adrien Brody—has been turned into a new play with music, “The Pianist.”
Both the movie and play are based on Szpilman’s memoir.
According to the George Street Playhouse, the New Brunswick, N.J.-based theater where the play is running through October 22, Szpilman, who was Jewish, “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, (he) was forced to live in the heart of the Warsaw ghetto (for two years). Towards the end of his concealment (there), he was helped by Wilm Hosenfeld, a German officer who detested Nazi policies. After World War II, Szpilman resume his career on Polish radio,” composing hundreds of songs and orchestral pieces.
The play has been directed and adapted for the stage by Emily Mann. It began its development at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., where Mann served as artistic director and resident playwright from 1990 to 2020; the McCarter received a Tony Award for outstanding regional theater during her tenure.
“The Pianist” stars Ukrainian-Russian Jewish actor Daniel Donskoy as Szpilman in his U.S. stage debut. Donskoy has performed in multiple theaters throughout the United Kingdom and also worked in London as a theater director, producer and playwright. He has appeared in British series “Detectorists,” “Casualty” and “Victoria”; in the German series, “Sankt Maik”; as the Israeli gangster, Danny Dahan, in the HBO series “Strike Back”; and as Princess Diana’s lover, James Hewitt, in the Netflix series, “The Crown.”
Mann said recently that she had been “haunted by my mother’s family murdered in occupied Poland during the Holocaust” since she was a child. “Seeing Fascism on the rise again both in the United Sates and around the world gives even greater urgency to this play. We must bring to powerful life the call to action, ‘Never again.’”
In the play, she added, “both the horror and beauty” of Szpilman’s “art cries out. He survives to create more beauty in the world.”
In an interview this past week, Donskoy said that in portraying Szpilman, it has been “emotionally and physically difficult to lose my family eight times a week, quite challenging.”
He also noted that within the next few years, no more survivors of the Holocaust will “be alive. (The play) is one of the most tragic reminders of what can happen when hate takes over.”