Actor Daniel Donskoy portrays Wladyslaw Szpilman in GSP's production of "The Pianist"
Pianist Wladyslaw 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. There’s a new stage adaptation of The Pianist, 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.
His memoir inspired an Oscar-winning film and now acclaimed Playwright/Director Emily Mann has crafted an innovative, immersive play with music that delivers this terrifying and triumphant tale with soul-shaking power and thrilling theatrical immediacy. The play runs through October 22 at George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.
Actor Daniel Donskoy, who portrays Szpilman in the new play at GSP, spoke with WBGO's News Director Doug Doyle about the importance of this production.
"I carry on my shoulders the importance of honoring this man's life. He's a real human being. It's his story, the story of survival. When I read the memoir, I could not fathom how Wladyslaw Szpilman after losing everyone and everything he loved, but could still wake up and smile in the morning. He says it in the play. If I stop playing, I stop living. Music was the one thing that kept him going. Throughout this play, the way Emily (Mann) has directed it with a beautiful score of Iris Hond, a fantastic composer from the Netherlands, you feel that music is another character on stage."
This is Donskoy's American stage debut. His first piano teacher was his grandmother. He admits his background help him gain perspective for the role.
"Music has been the language that I could utilize throughout the different countries I grew up in. I was an immigrant in so many places. I was born in Russia. Then I grew up Germany. We later moved to Israel. I then moved to London. Music was the one language I was taught as a kid that is universally spoke and universally understood and felt. Coming to the world in a Soviet family, a lot of focus has been given to the Arts. Socialism and communism in the Soviet Union had a lot of big things, but the only good thing that kept people together was the understanding of Arts is important. Not only was my grandmother my first piano reacher, she taught me that it is so every important to read. She taught me (Fyodor) Dostoevsky and (Alexander) Pushkin at a very early age. It had a big effect on me. I think that really resonated with a role for me."
The other members are the The Pianist cast are Claire Beckman, Tina Benko, Charlott Ewing, Rachel Felstein, Airelle Goldman, Robert David Grant, Jor danLage, Ian Lowe, Austin Pendleton, Paul Spera and Georgia Warner.
Donskoy says working with the cast and crew at GSP has been a wonderful experience.
"I was a bit scared. I was the new one into this play. They've been developing this play for five years through workshops. I'm the new kid on the block. I walked into a room of love and companionship. I've had the best time."
Donskoy made his theatrical debut in London's Camden Fringe Festival in 2014. 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. 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.
You can SEE the entire interview with Daniel Donskoy here.