PORTLAND — The harrowing real-life story of Anne Frank has captivated people of all ages since her diary was first published in 1947.

Generations of schoolchildren have been moved by her entries chronicling the two years she spent hiding from the Nazis before her capture in 1944 and her untimely death at age 15 in a concentration camp in March 1945.

The Old Port Playhouse is recounting her tragic tale with the Maine premiere of Enid Futterman and Michael Cohen’s musical adaptation, “Yours, Anne.”

Not surprisingly, the play has garnered its share of controversy, with the Old Port Playhouse receiving calls of complaint about the show.

A musical retelling of Anne Frank’s final years? It’s an idea many have trouble reconciling, given the poignancy of Anne’s account. Some fear a musical trivializes the horrific reality of the events that unfolded in history.

Their concerns definitely have merit, but “Yours, Anne” isn’t the typical musical. You won’t go away from it singing any of the songs. The musical trades show tunes for chamber opera to create a more befitting tone.

Futterman and Cohen created “Yours, Anne” in hopes of bringing the story of Anne’s life, and the events surrounding it, to the attention of an even wider audience. They succeed to a large degree, albeit with a somewhat Cliff-noted version. The musical clocks in at an hour and a half, with no intermission.

The Old Port Playhouse, under the direction of Artistic Director Michael J. Tobin, does an admirable job staging this production. In many ways, it’s the perfect production for the intimate theater.

Tobin has given the stage a somber look with boards and furniture antiqued in red and black paint. A large, yellow Star of David has been painted as a backdrop with barbed wire across it.

The tight quarters of the stage give added realism to the production as the eight actors, who remain on stage throughout, have to maneuver around each other, in much the same way their real-life characters had to make do with their cramped living quarters.

Fifteen-year-old Portland High School honor student Michaela Boissonneault heads up the cast as Anne Frank. She is aptly cast, not only for her looks and age, but also for her surprising vocal prowess and endurance.

Much of the dialogue is sung, with Boissonneault lending vocals on 21 out of the 24 musical numbers. Her lovely vocals are strong and confident throughout.

Jaymie Chamberlin is also fittingly cast as Anne’s anguished mother, and Christian F. Luening and Madeleine Paine give fine turns as Anne’s father and sister.

Jeffrey Caron, Cynthia O’Neil and Michael Shawn Lynch Jr. portray Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan and their son, Peter.

Caron and O’Neil add tension to the production and establish a nice contrast between their characters and the Franks. Lynch delivers an impassioned performance that highlights his character’s struggle to come to grips with his situation and the hatred that has put him there.

Alex Pratt deftly rounds out the cast as Mr. Dussel, a prominent local dentist.

The Old Port Playhouse’s “Yours, Anne” is made all the more poignant with radio days-like sound effects, old news clips and eerie musical accompaniment by Jim Colby and Audra Hatch.

The production keeps you on the edge of your seat and helps the audience experience a little of what Anne and the seven hiding with her must have felt, cooped up, with potential discovery always looming.

 

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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