BCT crafts a professional, powerful ‘Anne Frank’

Elle Shaheen, Zehava Younger and Isabelle Luongo in "The Diary of Anne Frank." Photo: Toby Schine.

Elle Shaheen, Zehava Younger and Isabelle Luongo in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo: Toby Schine.

BOSTON — I once asked my high school drama teacher why he was spending so much money for professional make-up artists and authentic costumes that once were part of a Broadway production for our production of “Billy Budd.”
“If you look like a professional and feel like a professional, you’ll act like a professional,” he said. One of those actors, Paul Guilfoyle, went on to a solid professional career in films, TV and the stage, including 14 years as Capt. Jim Brass on “CSI.”
So when the Boston Children’s Theatre, Executive Artistic Director Burgess Clark and Executive Director and Producer Toby Schine decided to stage “The Diary of Anne Frank,” they engaged the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts, hired nonpareil set designer Janie Howland to design and be production manager, tabbed John Malinsowski to do the lighting, etc., etc.
Feel professional, act like a professional. And so the BCT production of “Anne Frank” now at the Wimberly through Sunday is a most professional and powerful production by young area amateurs, many of whom appear to be already on their way to promising careers.
Along with the challenges of the script and the characters, the actors of the BCT have to portray characters who age-wise are a generation apart, even with little or no age difference in their actual ages. That they pull if off almost seamlessly is a tribute to their skills and Burgess Clark’s direction.

Jake Orozco-Herrman and Zehava Younger in "The Diary of Anne Frank." Photo: Toby Schine

Jake Orozco-Herrman and Zehava Younger in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Photo: Toby Schine

The story, of course, is based on the diary of Anne Frank, a 13-year-old member of a Jewish Dutch family forced into hiding in 1942 as the Germans begin removing Jews from Holland during World War II, shipping them off to camps from which no one returns.
Otto Frank (Alex Hanscom) has been a prosperous businessman but he is first forced to give up his business and then, when older daughter Margot is summoned to be moved to a Nazi work camp, he attempts to take himself and his family off the Nazis’ radar by seeming to flee the country, only to take up residence in the annex of his business, along with three members of the Van Daan family and a dentist, Dr. Dussel.
Zava Younger, 14, not only bears a physical resemblance to the iconic photo of Anne, but shows the flirtatious nature and coquetteishness of a young teenage girl, as well as a good heart as she cobbles together Hanukah presents.
Jake Orozzco-Herman is charmingly awkward and then simply charming as Peter Van Daan, the teen who strikes a friendship with Anne that evolves into something more after his first kiss from her. There is great poignancy in it because we know the fate that awaits them down the road. His parents (Kevin Paquette and Shayna Bredbeck) struggle to get along with the others and prove to be little weaker than the others in dealing with the myriad of stresses in their situation.
Hanscom is fine as the stolid Otto, struggling to keep social order together no food incredible stress.
Kira Shannon as Edith Frank takes a back seat to her husband and Isabelle Luongo gives depth to Margot, the older sister and the so-called “good girl” who goes along to get along.
Joshua Mooiwer provides some needed comic relief as Mr. Dussel, the dentist who becomes Annie’s very reluctant roommate.
Elle Shaheen and Owen Sherrin have some nice moments as the heroic Mep Gies and Mr. Kraler, who put themselves in danger by helping the hideaways.
There is no weak link in the piece, but with characters moving up, down and around on Howland’s multi-level set, on a few instances it was tough for some dialogue to be heard at a recent performance.
In recent years Clark and Schine have programmed not only crowd-pleasing family favorites at BCT but challenging pieces such as “Spring Awakening,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the award-winning “Reflections of a Rock Lobster” and “Anne Frank.” It’s not only good theater, it’s good training for the careers of the young actors growing up at BCT.
Part of the power and poignancy of “Anne Frank,” of course, is that the hideaways evaded capture for two years only to meet death — except for Otto Frank — in some cases mere days before they might have been rescued.
At one point in the piece, Anne, who dies from typhus in February 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen prison weeks before it was liberated, says something in her diary which becomes part of the book and is carried over to the stage.
“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. “
And we are grateful that her thoughts survived and gave us an insight into her incredible courage in the face of unspeakable evil, and an everlasting tribute to the human spirit.
The Boston Children’s Theatre Production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Adapted for the stage by Frances Goodrick and Albert Hackett, based on “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,” edited by Otto Frank. Directed by Burgess Clark. In the Wimberly Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion of the Boston Center for the Arts through May 2. Tickets at box office or bostonchildrenstheatre.org.