Park Square's 15th Anniversary Production of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK to Reach 201,000 Audience Members
This spring marks the 15th anniversary production of The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett at Park Square Theatre. When it closes on May 15, the production-the touching story of a brave young woman coming of age in hiding from the Nazis-will have played for 638 performances and inspired 201,000 audience members, including tens of thousands of students from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The original Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway production played for 717 performances. Julie Ann Nevill, who has played Mrs. Van Daan since the first curtain call, said "This show has tremendous impact on our whole region with as many as 16,000 students seeing it every year - for most it's their first professional live theatre experience. Who wouldn't want to be part of that magic?"
After performances for both adult and student audiences as part of Park Square's subscription season in 1999, The Diary of Ann Frank entered the theatre's 3M Student Series repertory, returning annually over the past 15 years for students with occasional general audience performances. Anne Frank's original Diary of a Young Girl is widely taught in schools throughout the region, both as part of a Holocaust or Genocide Studies unit and as a fine example of literary memoir. During Park Square's long run, teachers have returned year after year with succeeding generations of students. "I have brought students to the Park Square Theatre since 2001," said Karen Duffy from Northwood School. "They are always so impressed. First of all, most have never been to a theater before and have never seen a live play production. They can't believe how engaged they feel during the performance - like they were 'there' in Amsterdam with Anne Frank. Students rave, remember, and ask to return. " Ann Prchal from St. Michael's Catholic School concurred: "Our students get a strong background of the Holocaust through various lessons in the classroom, but Park Square's production brings the reality of the time to life. Whenever we can teach our children about others, they really learn more about themselves."
The 3M Student Series repertory also includes perennial productions of other core literature, such as John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. With the upcoming opening of Park Square's new Andy Boss Thrust Stage, new productions of Romeo & Juliet and The House on Mango Street will be added to the repertory. Matinees of other performances in the company's regular season, such as this year's Mary T. & Lizzy K by Tazewell Thompson, also offer new plays to schools.
This year's production includes long-time alumni such as Robert-Bruce Brake and Julie Ann Nevill - playing Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan - as well as newcomer Charity Jones, playing Mrs. Frank. Brake and Nevill have been with the show since the beginning. "Returning to 'the attic' every year is very meaningful for both of us," Brake said. "Not only is it a wonderful annual gig and a great reunion with other cast members, it's an amazing chance to grow with a character over time - and to grow with each generation of students who sees the show. I am constantly gratified that Park Square shows such dedication to this production. Each year we collectively attempt to provide the most authentic, entertaining and meaningful interpretation of the script. We constantly rehearse, redesign, rethink, and reimagine the life that these people experienced some 70 years ago. No detail goes overlooked and every avenue is explored to attempt to give our student audiences the most vibrant, realistic and pure version of their story. Our production is living history!"
"The continuation of this show is so important," added Julie Ann Nevill. "As we've reminded the children during talk-backs, 'those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it,' and horrors such as this continue to this day in many parts of the world. (It's not an easy thing for anyone to truly wrap their head around if they haven't experienced it.) As holocaust survivors pass away, more and more denials come to the forefront. A few years ago, I became aware that if you did a Google search on 'Holocaust' over half the sites that came up were denial sites. Sometimes, during our talk-backs with the kids, we discover that they haven't begun their studies of this subject yet. It's an amazing feeling to introduce them to it in such a tangible way: to witness them 'experiencing' history personally; to feel their joy, fear, and sadness at what these amazing people went through during the Holocaust."
A show that runs this long has a multi-generational impact, inspiring young audience members to return to the play later in life. Kathryn Wind, who has played Anne for the last five years, got the "theatre bug" as a 14-year- old watching Diary as part of her high school's Holocaust curriculum. She then played Anne in the Rosemount High School production before joining the Park Square cast. After hundreds of daily performances for students, Wind is coming full circle by starting a new career in teaching.
Some Diary alumni have one or more seasons of the show on their already-long resumes: Stephen D'Ambrose, Peter Gregory Thompson, and Phil Kilbourne (Mr. Frank); Dale Pfeilsticker, Patrick Bailey and Wade Vaughn (Mr. Kraler); Jodi Kellogg and Joy Raikerd (Mrs. Van Daan) and Heather Raiter (Margot Frank). Actor Grant Richey played Mr. Dussel every season with the company until his death in 2010, when Michael Tezla stepped into the role. Others have gone on to national careers. Mariko Nakasone, who played Anne for several years, including the production that Wind saw, is now at the Yale School of Drama after successful turns at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and The Guthrie Theater. Seth Numrich (Peter, 2002), rocketed to Broadway with his debut as Lorenzo in the 2010 revival of The Merchant of Venice. He has since played the boxer Joe Bonaparte in Golden Boy and Albert in War Horse, both at the Lincoln Center Theater. Most recently, he was named "Outstanding Newcomer" at this year's Evening Standard Theatre Awards in London for his performance in Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic.
This year's cast also includes veterans Kirby Bennett as Miep, Charles Fraser as Mr. Dussel, Larissa Gritti as Margo Frank, Jon Hegge as Mr. Frank, Stephen Pearce as Mr. Kraler and A.J. Swanson as Peter Van Dann.
The Diary of Anne Frank production team is led by director Scott M. Rubsam, who has remounted every annual run of the show, and includes Megan West (assistant director), Gabriel Backlund (scenic director), Elin Anderson (costume designer), Robert Bruce-Brake (properties designer), Randall Seitz (sound designer) and Michael P. Kittel (lighting designer), Anita Kelling (sound supervisor) and Jerry La Fave (composer) Wayne Hendricks is stage manager.
All performances are in the company's intimate 348-seat theater in Saint Paul's historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place.
Ticket prices: $25, available at the Park Square Box Office, 20 W. Seventh Place, or by phone: 651.291.7005, (12 noon-5 p.m. Monday through Friday), or online at www.parksquaretheatre.org. The play will return for its 16th year in March 2015.