Yours, Anne, based on the book "Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl" and the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett; libretto by Enid Futterman; music by Michael Cohen. Directed by Michael Philip Davis.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Every dream was sweet, I remember..."
I doubt that there is anyone left who doesnít know something about the story of Anne Frank, who doesnít know that she kept a diary of the last two years of her life and that she died in a concentration camp during World War II. It would be hard to believe that her story hasnít touched every mind and heart in America by now. This new musical setting of her story doesnít break any new ground, or touch on any hitherto unreleased secrets. It doesnít take a fresh look at her story. It doesnít turn a new page. What it does is to give her story music, give it a different sound. Itís intent would be to touch us in a different way, perhaps a deeper way which is something that music can give us.
In Francis Poulencís opera, The Dialogue of the Carmelites, he attempted the same thing. In a story, less-well known to us, he brings us into the soul of a young girl who cannot comprehend the larger scope of the world outside her small, contained orb. At the end of the experience she walks to the gallows, to be beheaded alongside her fellow Carmelite nuns. Poulencís music, and the additional sound effect of the blade sliding down to decapitate one after another of the Sisters, builds to a crescendo, a torment of lyricism with voices that slowly thin out to a single voice. At the end of the scene the audience is usually in tears, sometimes near hysterics actually, over the needless and unfortunate deaths of these women.
"Yours, Anne," ends with a similar litany of death, ending with Anneís death in the final days of the war. We are touched to hear of her death, but we donít have the same sort of lyrical guidepost, merely the recitation of cold facts. We are moved, naturally, but we are not brought to anger, despair, or even that sense of loss that we need. Something is missing in this show. Something is just not right.
Perhaps it is that the musical theater is not the right venue for this story. Perhaps it needs that grander, over-the-top writing that grand opera allows. Perhaps it needs to build to that crescendo of emotion that we keep inside. Or perhaps it is just that now, more than fifty years after the story became known, we have heard it, seen it, felt it all too many times before. We feel the loss of this girl and her family and companions, but we donít feel it the way we once did.
The current production at the New York State Theatre Institute at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York is a good production with a fine company of players. With the exception of the set, designed by Robert Klingelhoefer, the physical production is excellent. Klingelhoefer has missed the one element of the story that has always been essential - the awful closeness of the eight residents of the small apartment in Amsterdam where they were hidden for so long. I have been to the Anne Frank house. I understand the difficulty with privacy, silence, relationships that were strained by the interminable proximity of body to body. On the massive stage set at NYSTI there is no oppressive propinquity. If the show suffers from a lack of reality, the blame must lie on its platforms and central playing area.
The cast is nearly perfect. Shannon Rafferty makes Anne into a girl you can take to your heart. She does it with enthusiasm, a lovely singing voice, a genuine sincerity in her playing. We can see her mature, even though her almost constant presence on stage doesnít allow for many physical changes as the 13 year-old girl matures into a young woman of 15. Rafferty pulls off the nearly impossible task of growing up before our eyes and her love scene with Peter Van Daan, a nicely performed role by Michael Whitney, has the clarity of youth and the precision of the moment.
David Bunce is an almost heart-warming Dr. Dussel, a single man who joins the others in their hideaway. Aloof, strange, and uncomfortable around Anne, his second act duet with Otto Frank about their wives turns him into a human being of deep sensibilities and his announced death is one of the most devastating of the group. Bunce plays this role extremely well.
Anny DeGange makes Edith Frank, Anneís mother, into a hard-to-love person, someone who cannot understand, and will not try to understand, her younger childís passions and distress. Joel Aroeste as Otto Frank is touching from the first moment to the last. He has a truthfulness here that makes his character most appealing. John Romeo is excellent as Hermann Van Daan.
Elivia Bovenzi is a wonderful Margot Frank, the older sister. Her scenes with Rafferty were especially effective. Mary Brazeau as Peterís mother was a winner, especially in her aria about her fur coat, a very difficult moment in which the authors make selfishness a winning quality, particularly under circumstances where the definitions of self and selfishness become acutely skewed.
The loss of the Nazi Officer in the final scene made the exit and the death-walk narrative less effective than it might have been.
The costumes by Karen Kammer suited the characters and the period of the show very nicely. However, the showís intimacy and the showís sense of confinement came only from the fine lighting designed by John McLain. With sparse, tight focuses on people he managed to convey that horrible lack of privacy that made life in this set of attic rooms so difficult for its occupants to bear. Even though the final moment seemed to be botched it was clear what the designerís intentions were as Otto Frank finds his daughterís long missing diary, his final gift to her. Poignancy needs to be better produced by the technical crew.
Director Michael Philip Davis stages his moments beautifully, but misses out on the overall effect of his production which is too large in physical scope and too small in the intimacies of family dynamics. He has lost us on the vastness of his space and he loses the impact of the play at the same time.
The biggest problem with this show is in the writing, however. The music falls short of supporting the living emotions of both characters and audience. The song, "I remember," principally a quartet for the women, is the most touching and effective piece in the show, almost a heart-stopper at times. The diary solos sung by Anne are outside narrative and convey information neatly, but only occasionally do they divert us into the inner girl. Mrs. Frankís duet with Anne, "She Doesnít Understand Me" is almost successful at making us like the mother better. Mr. Van Daanís song, "They Donít Have To" is strong and effective. Margot has a lovely moment with "Something to Get Up For."
But the fact of the matter is that Futtermanís lyrics and Cohenís music donít bring us deep enough into the hearts of these people often enough. There is a clinical side to the writing of this show and it depletes the characters of character. That operatic treatment is indicated in this tale, and this era of the through-composed musical - which this is not, by the way - would seem to be the way to go.
This show has been around since 1979, according to the program notes, and had its first full exposure in 1985. Perhaps it is time to completely rethink the piece, keeping what works and bringing out the pathos and passion that is missing.
Shannon Rafferty as Anne
Eight refugees and a radio
Peter and Anne's relationship matures
Yours, Anne plays at the Schacht Fine Arts Center at Russell Sage College in Troy through March 26. Tickets are always affordable here, $10 to $20, and you can book them by calling the box office at 518-274-3256.