Yours, Anne

Date 16th June 2014
Society Jewish Theatre Group Manchester
Venue St Monica's Sixth Form Studio Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director John Flay
Musical Director Marilyn Blank

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

In this rarely produced musical version of; "The Diary of Anne Frank," Enid Futterman's lyrics and Michael Cohen's music are beautifully complemented with Anne Frank's enduring commentary on coming of age in captivity during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.
Saying that, I found the score to be quite monotonous as a whole and for me, the score is the shows biggest let down - I can see why this musical hasn’t become as popular as hoped when originally conceived.

As the’ Anne Frank Diary’ is a part of the educational curriculum, understandably, the telling of this piece is geared to audiences of all ages while still being able to impact a high powered sense of fear and suspense, it certainly doesn’t feel as though it’s had the edges softened to be made child friendly.

We begin with two families’ whose worlds are turned upside-down as the Nazis begin cracking down on the Jewish population. To avoid being rounded up and sent to the concentration camps, the Franks and the Van Daans hide and stay secretly hidden in cramped quarters above a print shop. They're joined by dentist Mr. Pfeffer soon after.

The JTC billed this production as ‘a drama with music’ which, with not much surprise, was what I was expecting. The production was in fact (no matter which way you look at it) a musical; 95% (give or take) of the production is sung - the players converse, narrate and convey their inner thoughts and emotions through song, we have a mix of ensemble numbers, solos and duets - there is very little dialogue so that instantly takes it out of the ‘drama’ classification when it comes down to the type of production in hand. Granted – it’s not a frivolous "song-and-dance" musical, but not all of them are! If it needed to be billed as anything; ‘Anne Frank’s Diary put to music’ would have been more accurate. I appreciate that how you bill a production is often stipulated by the licence holder but nonetheless, this was an inaccurate example of the shows genre. This may seem a minor point but how you bill a production will decipher who your audience are, and if they expect one thing but get another – it may not always be in the favour of the production. 

As well as being a piece of factual history, ‘Yours, Anne’ is also an educational piece for a non-Jewish audience; for an insight into Jewish celebrations, the ambient "First Chanukah Night," tells and teaches us of this religious holiday, whilst it did feel like a bit of welcome light relief (pun intended) the fear and uncertainty of tomorrow still rung through.
  
The set worked nicely having the split levels, the attention to detail amongst the props, costumes and set décor was authentic.  Having the projection worked nicely and wasn’t overdone and I particularly appreciated the radio announcement at the start of the show for the audiences benefit which was a creative and effective touch.
I could see that the right mood was presented with the lighting design though the practicalities of this technical department did need improvements as performers were not lit when they should have been and areas of action were often in complete darkness, which I’m confident was not the intention.

John Flay directs a fine cast, Jennifer Simmons as Margot (Anne’s older sister) gave a very modest performance, Jennifer outstandingly stood her own ground during her number and displayed her talent as an excellent actress and vocalist yet didn’t pull focus in any way throughout any other part of the show which, for me, always speaks volumes as an understanding and profound performer, “Margot’s Song” was indeed a highlight for me.

Debra Harris gave a moving performance as Anne and delivered the qualities needed for this role, carrying the evening with expert ability.  Debra injected the sense of positivity which is crucial in this telling and conveyed the vulnerability of the iconic individual very well.  As is so easily done when portraying an adolescent , a tendency to appear slightly stagey can creep up to the surface, however, this was only very slight but noticeable nonetheless which is my only (small) criticism of this performance - Still, I cannot deny this was a very moving and intelligent enactment of high calibre. 

Also working incredibly hard was the out-of-sight Musical Director providing the accompanying music, Marilyn Blank was the string (and indeed the bow on top) tightly holding this production together, a sterling job.  
Only a piano was used to accompany the songs, letting the drama of the lyrics speak for themselves.

Something different, experimental, poignant, educational and moving – Congratulations JTC.