Anne Frank musical hits the right note in Spain
A controversial Spanish musical telling the story of Anne Frank has its world premiere next week in Madrid, despite protests from her only surviving relative and the foundation that protects the rights to her diary.
But, if preview audiences are anything to go by, its producers—like the eponymous stars of Mel Brooks’s comedy—look like they have an improbable hit on their hands about life under the Nazis.
The Diary of Anne Frank: A Song to Life has caused upset from the outset, leading to a split between the two organisations responsible for protecting Frank’s memory.
The Anne Frank Foundation, which looks after the museum based in the house in which the Franks hid out in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, has given its support to the show, which will run at Madrid’s CalderÃ³n theatre.
However, the Basel-based Anne Frank Fund, headed by her only surviving relative, cousin Buddy Elias, has refused to cede rights to the diary, and called for the musical to be halted. “The Frank family was living in hiding for two years, which ended in tragedy—that’s no theme for a happy evening of song and dance,” said Elias.
The musical has been playing to packed preview audiences, receiving standing ovations each night, with the warmest applause reserved for Anne, played by the 13-year-old Cuban-American Isabella Castillo.
But her strong performance is let down by the weakness of the material as the show does not have the rights to use Frank’s actual words.
The writer and journalist Leopoldo Alas says the message is not very sophisticated: the Nazis were bad, and being Jewish under Nazi occupation was not very nice. But, he says, it goes no further than that: “It’s a superficial product, well made, but without much intelligence.”
But the Wednesday-morning matinee performance for schoolchildren has already sold out until May, suggesting that it has a strong educational appeal in a country that did not take part in World War II.
Alas questioned the point of making the musical at all, although he felt that the backing of the Anne Frank Foundation gave it some credibility. “I went along with a prejudice about the idea of making a musical about Anne Frank’s diary. Is it really necessary to do this? I don’t think so. What does it add to our understanding?
“In the end, the production is fine—neither too frivolous nor too dramatic, but essentially mediocre. It could well be successful because musicals are popular at the moment,” he said, adding that many would support it because it is one of the first Spanish musicals in Madrid not to have been translated from English.
Sara (27), who had come with her mother to see one of the previews, said she thought the show deserved to be a big success. “I really enjoyed it,” she said, “though it was very sad, and musicals are normally very happy. I thought it dealt with the Nazi theme very sensitively, but with an optimistic outlook.”
Others felt that Castillo was undoubtedly the star of the show. “She was fantastic. What a star. Her voice is amazing,” said one member of the audience.
But some felt the songs themselves were not particularly memorable. Anita, who had read the diary when she was a teenager, said: “It was faithful to her story, but the songs were a bit too much the same. There wasn’t really one you would be able to sing afterwards.”—guardian.co.uk Â