'Yours, Anne' brims with haunting hope
The new Jamestown Community Theatre production, "Yours, Anne," is a departure from the lighter, larger-cast musicals typical of the local theatre group, and promises to stir emotions and inspiration in every heart.
The show opens tomorrow night, Friday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Central Baptist Church.
The musical, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, is based on "Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl," the renowned chronicle of two Jewish families hidden in a cramped attic in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation. The music, composed by Michael Cohen, with a libretto written by Enid Futterman, is described as "haunting" and "moving" by those who have already snatched glimpses of the production.
"The actors have made it more spectacular than I could have expected," artistic director Mary Wright says of the all- Jamestown cast. Wright admits that, in knowing the outcome of the tragic history, people question how the subject matter can transition into hope from despair. Hope grows through Anne's words, from which much of the dialogue comes, Wright says. "We want people leaving the play to be able to use what they learned, either on a personal or global level."
"Yours, Anne" originally opened in New York in 1985 and ran for six months off- Broadway at Playhouse 91. Wright saw the concert version performed at Temple Shalom in Middletown almost 10 years ago, and the idea to stage the play lingered with her for years. Last November, she moved forward with the idea. "Just do it," a friend urged.
Hannah Cordes, as Anne, leads the cast. Already a veteran actor in the community theater, Cordes, at 13-years-old, is the same age Anne Frank was when forced out of her secret home by the Nazis.
Before auditioning for the play, Cordes went to the director and, revealing her passion for Anne's story, told Wright she wanted to participate in the production even if she didn't get a part. "I read the book from cover to cover and got completely fascinated with her," Cordes recalls.
Cordes finds a comfort level in the part, and has become inspired to explore future dramatic roles. She likes feeling a deeper connection with the serious characters, rather than the "cute little girls" she has been playing since the age of seven. "The audience can go away with something in this play," she says. "It's a wonderful cast. I feel so honored to be a part of it."
John Andrews, who plays the dentist, Mr. Dussel, says that part of the challenge for the actors is how to balance human relationships "with a dark background of terror." Another challenge he mentions is realizing the episodes are from the diary itself, and the characters become Anne's projection with false names. "Mr. Dussel was really Fritz Pfeiffer," he adds.
Michael Liebhauser plays Peter van Daan, and he says that transitioning from "good, happy people" in past performances to a more somber character has been rewarding. "It's a whole new medium," he says.
Janet Grant, piano accompanist for the play, describes the dissonant sounds that flow through the music "beautiful and haunting." Judy Bolles also accompanies with the violin and Barbara Davidson on the flute.
The significance of a church as the venue is not lost. "I appreciate that it is done in a church, since it was Christians who hid them," Wright notes.
Rev. Kathryn Palen of the Central Baptist Church was told of the performance before her appointment to the church last month. She looked for a way to incorporate some part of the performance into worship. Last Sunday, she invited the cast members to join her at the pulpit. Palen chose four musical selections to be sung from the play, weaving them together with inspirational quotes and Biblical stories. "Yours, Anne" is a declaration of hope and finding a place of faith in times of wilderness, with issues we still face today," Palen says. "I feel privileged to be a part of that."
Previously, the island theatre's productions have often been much larger, including children and cast members numbering 100 or more, according to Wright. To complement the small cast in the current production, Wright incorporated school children to open the play with poetry and song. The poetry readers are Camille Baker, Dana Larkin, Kelsey Donahue, Allie Brown and Raeshelle DeValerio. Danielle Brown, Erin Brown and Allie Brown will sing.
Wright praised the set designers and builders for designing and moving the set to the Central Baptist Church, and for putting it together once it was in place, all in an expedient manner. "With full time jobs, I always am in awe of the work this volunteer group does for each play. It is the crew who too often leave a production in the shadows of fame with only cuts and bruises left from their labors and truckloads of used sets to return. I want to thank this fine group, led by Kevin Sommerville and Maryanne England, and in addition Michael Glier who spent hours producing special effects," she praises.
In addition to opening night on Friday, other performances this weekend will be Saturday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 4, at 4 p.m. The second weekend performances are Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 11, at 4 p.m.
Tickets for performances are available for purchase at Baker's Pharmacy, Conanicut Marine Store, and the Secret Garden in Jamestown, at Pleasant Surprise in Newport, and at Midnight Sun in Wickford.
Dress rehearsal on Thursday, March 1, is free to seniors, 65 and older, and students. Seniors must pick up their free tickets at a designated time at the Senior Center. Free student tickets for the dress rehearsal can be picked up from Melissa Minto at the Teen Center, also at a designated time, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.