Saturday, January 12, 2013

"I Am Anne Frank" by Nautilus Music-Theater at the Southern Theater

I recently read The Diary of a Young Girl after seeing a moving production of the play based on the book, The Diary of Anne Frank, at Yellow Tree Theatre last fall. We're all familiar with Anne's story - she and her family hid in a "secret annex" in a building in Amsterdam in the mid-1940s, until they were found and sent to concentration camps. But what struck me most about the diary is how normal Anne seems, writing about typical teenage topics like sibling rivalry, parental trouble, boys, movie stars, books, school. She was an ordinary girl in an extraordinary situation. Perhaps that's the most remarkable part of her story, how she was able to carry out an almost normal life, growing up living in a small crowded apartment that she was never able to leave, with the threat of death and danger always so near. Nautilus Music-Theater's remount of their 2006 Ivey-winning production of I Am Anne Frank gives yet another perspective on that familiar story. Like all good musicals, when words aren't enough to express what you're feeling - there's music. Music communicates emotions in a way mere words cannot. And this piece expresses the joy, fear, longing, frustration, hope, and desperation of Anne's story.

A few highlights of the show:
  • Vanessa Gamble gives a beautiful performance in what is almost a one-woman show. She really does become Anne in all her forms - stubborn, spirited, joyful, fearful. The music flows seamlessly out of the dialogue, often using Anne's own words from the diary. Vanessa's performance of this beautiful music (by Michael Cohen) gives us deeper insight into Anne's experience.
  • It's "almost" a one-woman show, because Vanessa is accompanied on stage by the always excellent Joel Liestman. He spends most of the show sitting at the edge of the stage, watching Anne, reacting to her, and providing another character for her to play against. He occasionally joins in for a song or discussion, playing Anne's teenage friend and fellow annex resident Peter.
  • The set is like a floating island in the beautiful cavernous space of the Southern Theater, a mostly bare square box with just the hint of a window and a desk and chair, and Anne's words on the back wall. Anne never leaves this small area, like the real Anne never left the small apartment. Peter never leaves an even smaller box on the side; even when they're singing and dancing together and exploring their relationship, they never cross that invisible boundary, adding to the feeling of isolation and loneliness of the situation. (Nautilus Aristic Director Ben Krywosz is responisble for the direction and set design.)
  • The lighting (by Michael Wangen) is like a third actor on stage, creating moods, hinting at the time of day, showing us the stars on Anne's face.
  • The simple choreography (by JP Fitzgibbons) flows out of the music and emotion of the words and feels very organic to the characters.
The show opens with the actors introducing themselves, listing a few personal characteristics, some similar and some different. Then they tell stories of genocide around the world, all of which have taken place since the Holocaust, a tragedy we swore to never let happen again. But it's still happening. Anne's words are so simple and profound, as she ponders why people kill people who are different from them, and who decided they were different in the first place. "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart." Hers is an inspirational story, and this production by Nautilus Music-Theater does it justice.

Nautilus has been touring the show around the state for the past year or so, and it only plays for two more performances at the Southern Theatre. Buy your tickets here - it's a bargain at under $20 a seat for this beautiful and moving 90-minute show.

Vanessa Gamble as Anne Frank