The idea of a musical based on the tragic story of Anne Frank sounds almost like an oxymoron, but “Yours, Anne” is not a typical musical. It is a play that, like an opera, is enhanced by its passionate and powerful songs.
The lyrics are often direct quotes from Anne Frank’s diaries, which the young girl wrote while hidden in the attic of rescuers shielding her from the doom of the Holocaust, explained director Suzanne Culver Shiflet,
Shiflet first read the play years ago in a script reading class at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts when she was 18 and a student in the two-year acting program. Since then she has had a professional acting career, was a drama teacher at Atascadero High School for nine years, and has directed plays.
“The script has stayed in the back of my mind for all of these years, and now I finally have a chance to direct it,” she said.
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“Yours, Anne,” written by Enid Futterman and Michael Cohen, uses quotes from Anne’s diaries more than the Pulitzer and Tony award-winning 1955 play, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” did. This musical version blends material from that play with the diaries, the director explained.
“It’s a play with music,” she said. “The subject is so serious that the music is part of the storytelling.”
The cast’s homework was to read both plays, as well as to study the Holocaust. That history is still relevant, Shiflet noted.
“It’s a lesson we can learn today. Six million Jews lost their lives. It’s a reminder of what humanity can do when we lose respect for each other.”
Rehearsals have been emotional for the young cast, all under 25 years old, but all experienced actors.
“Sometimes we have to take time out in rehearsals to break away from it.”
John Rothman, who plays Peter, has ancestors who were in the Holocaust, and his aunt came to a rehearsal to talk about the personal history.
Playing the role of Anne Frank has been hard on 14-year-old Cassie Johnson, but she wants to get it right, the director said. Shiflet teaches acting the way she learned it at PCPA, building the character’s history, doing research, and getting specific to develop the real person.
“We want honest, connected emotion, a truthful portrayal, not saccharine or melodrama,” she said.
Cassie was only 5 years old when she was in her first production with Shiflet, “Fiddler on the Roof.” She has appeared in other regional productions, as well as on the soap opera, “Days of Our Lives.”
“Cassie is an amazing talent,” the director said. “She has a great voice and heart. She read the diaries with compassion. Hopefully, her portrayal will remind people that the Nazis were the worst, so meticulous and deceptive to the end.”
Others in the cast are Michael Santangelo, Hannah Corella, Brandon Brooks, Julia Huss, Hailee Devries and Luke Sletten. Musical director and producer Johnny Johnson will conduct a live orchestra. The multi-level set creates the attic where Anne hid, with furnishings of the period. Costumes are from PCPA.
Shiflet said the production is appropriate for audiences 11 years old and up, as younger children would not understand it. It’s a sad story, but it’s still happening, and we read and see television about genocide and atrocities, the director said, “but we go on eating our dinner.”
“Human beings all have the capacity to do great evil,” she added, citing a quotation from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”