George Street Playhouse has set a world premiere run of The Pianist, a new play adapted by Emily Mann from Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman's memoir. The work will begin performances September 26 at the New Jersey venue, with opening night set for September 29 and performances continuing through October 22. Mann is also directing.
Ukrainian-Russian Jewish actor Daniel Donskoy will star as Władysław Szpilman in his American stage debut, sharing the stage with Claire Beckman as Mother, Austin Pendleton as Father, Paul Spera as Henryk, Arielle Goldman as Regina, Georgia Warner as Halina and Woman, Charlotte Ewing as Magda and Boy, Tina Benko as Janina and others, Robert David Grant as Majorek and others, and Jordan Lage as Jaworski.
The work recounts Szpilman's experience of The Holocaust while living in Warsaw during World War II and the role that music played in his own miraculous survival.
"The Pianist is the most important story I’ve been entrusted with as a theatre maker,” says Mann in a statement. "Not only is it a stunning story about the tenacity of the human spirit and the power of art, but it is also deeply personal. Since I was a child, I’ve been haunted by my mother’s family murdered in occupied Poland during The Holocaust. When I went to Warsaw to research The Pianist, I visited the Jewish Cemetery and placed a stone on my great grandmother’s grave. At that moment, I realized I, too, was a Warsaw Jew, and I had to tell this story. Seeing fascism on the rise again both in the United States and around the world gives even greater urgency to this play. We must bring to powerful life the call to action ‘never again’."
The Pianist will feature an original score by acclaimed Dutch concert pianist Iris Hond, though it is not a musical. The creative team also includes scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, lighting designer Japhy Weideman, costume designer Linda Cho, sound designers Mark Bennett and Charles Coes, and video and projection designer S. Katy Tucker. Cheryl Mintz is production stage manager.
The work has been in development since at least 2017, when a reading was given at The McCarter Theater Center. A 2020 virtual workshop starred Santino Fontana, who also led a 2022 in-person workshop in NYC. George Street Playhouse is presenting the world premiere in association with producers Michael Wolk, Kumiko Yoshii, and Robin de Levita, who have been developing the work.