Copyright holders have misgivings

MADRID “The Diary of Anne Frank” is an unlikely vehicle to be made into a musical, once strictly the realm of love stories and lighter fare. But a Spanish tuner based on Frank’s written account of her experiences — starring a 13-year-old novice selected by the public — is being readied for its premiere this month in Madrid, despite the misgivings of the book’s copyright owners.

The diary of the German-born Jewish girl who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 and has become a symbol of the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust inspired 1955 Pulitzer-winning drama “The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. That play was made into a 1959 film directed by George Stevens, which garnered three Academy Awards. But until now, the diary, written in Amsterdam while Frank and her family hid from the Nazis behind a false bookcase in a warehouse, has never been the inspiration for a musical.

“El diario de Ana Frank — un canto a la vida” (The Diary of Anne Frank: A Song to Life) will open at Madrid’s Haagen Dazs-Calderon theater Feb. 28, under the executive direction of Rafael Alvero. Tuner will star an unknown — 13-year-old Isabella Castillo — in the title role.

Cuban actress Castillo was chosen from 800 candidates in a public vote after an online casting session in which aspirants were invited to submit their own interpretations of a passage from the diary.

Though finally supported by the Amsterdam-based Anne Frank Foundation, the e3 million ($4.5 million) project, produced entirely with Spanish coin by Artisticas Gestalt and Atticus Entertainment, has predictably raised controversy.

The Basle-based Anne Frank-Fonds (AFF), which owns the copyright to the diaries, states on its website that it “has granted no rights for the musical by Rafael Alvero,” and that it has “requested him to desist from such a production.”

Actor Buddy Elias, Frank’s cousin and one of her few surviving relatives, told French news agency AFP “the Holocaust is not something that should be represented in a musical.”

Some commentators point out that though the show will open in Madrid, many Spaniards would feel offended by such seemingly trivializing treatment of their own country’s defining 20th century event, the Spanish Civil War.

But Alvero says the project is faithful to Anne Frank’s legacy, and the show will represent its own moral defense.

“We always knew this was an unusual idea that would provoke controversy,” Alvero told Variety. “This is an emotional story, and music is the ideal vehicle for emotions. The aim is to bring the imagination of Anne Frank to life.”

Preparation involved a trip by 40 cast and crew members to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The musical, with a cast of 22, features 21 songs by Spanish composer Jose Luis Tierno, with arrangements inspired by the klezmer music of the Ashkenazi Jews.

The wardrobe will, as far as possible, be based on references made by Frank herself in the diaries. One novelty about the production is that the diary itself is played by an actress, Patricia Arizmendi, and given the name “Kitty.”

According to Alvero, what happens next will depend on the show’s reception in Madrid. But commercial prospects look solid, with the promised combination of ballads and bathos likely to prove strong for Spanish theatergoers.

And while the controversy surrounding the musical is unusual for a legit production in Spain, it could also help attract a public keen to see what all the noise is about.

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