Caution: Works in Progress

Anne Frank's story seems ill-suited to song from the start. The strength and spirit of the Dutch girl who spent 25 months in a cramped "secret annexe" with eight other people, hiding from the Nazis, inspired a best-selling novel based on her diaries, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Librettist Enid Futterman and composer Michael Cohen, through the course of three productions -- at New York's Playhouse 91, in Manchester, England, and now at Actors' Playhouse in Kendall -- have struggled to make Yours, Anne an inspiring musical drama, with mixed results.

Anne Frank first enters the upper quarters behind her father's office when she's thirteen years old, on the brink of womanhood and what should have been a life. Instead she must wash, walk, and talk only in the early mornings, during lunch breaks, and on weekends, when the workers below cannot hear the sounds. Forced to share the dismal space with her beloved father Otto, her mother Edith (whom she doesn't love as much), her shy sister Margot, and the Van Daan family, Anne writes constantly in her diary, both to retain sanity and as an outlet for adolescent fantasies. Eventually even her tiny private space is invaded by Mr. Dussel, a Jewish dentist brought upstairs to fix Mrs. Van Daan's teeth.

A life of imprisonment tends to be monotonous, and the audience is made to feel the captives' boredom, fear, and anguish at every moment, which is part of Anne's problem. With the action emphasizing the way humanity can be crushed by senseless bigotry, rather than stressing the relationships between the victims themselves, the drama bogs down in a frozen void of fear and impotence. And damaging material has been added: Yours Anne draws from portions of the diary that Otto Frank removed from earlier published editions. Aside from the interesting fact that Anne was a budding feminist, these new revelations tend to diminish the heroine's noble character, making her seem more childish, disruptive, and spiteful than her previous image of the eternal optimist in the hideous face of evil.

Yet the show is far from hopeless. The music, lyrics, design, and staging can be effective, even eerie, and with a full orchestra, stronger voices, and more dramatic confrontations, this piece could evoke a deep, disturbing effect. "The First Chanukah Night," "I Remember," "I Think Myself Out," "Hollywood," and "They Don't Have To" are lovely odes to guarded hope, and Jeff Quinn's dank, multilevel set coupled with Stephen S. Neal's cryptlike lighting inspires genuine sorrow.

David Arisco has directed with interesting touches, using movement to express affection, separation, and irritation. Multi-Carbonell winner John Fionte gives Otto Frank enduring strength and infinite kindness, Carol Cavallo uncovers several emotional layers as the spurned, mournful mother Edith, and the rest of the cast generally infuse their roles with honesty and even wisdom. The burden of the play, however, rests on the shoulders of Carbonell-nominee Irene Adjan as Anne. While she imbues the character with the proper amount of exuberance and intelligence, her vocal abilities don't match her acting skills. With only Adjan's quavering voice and a lone piano, the fragile melodies barely come through.

Yours, Anne might well be one show that demands more elaborate production values, and more revisions, to help a difficult premise take flight in musical form. This particular version is not progress, however, and the originators, while they should not give up, should certainly move on.

TALES OF TINSELTOWN
Book and lyrics by Michael Colby, music by Paul Katz, directed and choreographed by Tony Stevens; with Keith Devaney, Peter Ermides, Melinda Gilb, Ellen Harvey, Marcia Lewis, Karyn Quackenbush, John Scherer, and Michael Tucci. At the Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy, Coconut Grove, through December 29th. Performances Tuesday -- Saturday at 8:15 p.m., Thursday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.; no performance December 25. Tickets cost $24-$35, with discount plans available. Call 442-4000 for more information.

YOURS, ANNE
(Based on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.) Libretto by Enid Futterman, music by Michael Cohen, musically staged and directed by David Arisco; with Irene Adjan, Carol Cavallo, Elizabeth Dimon, John Fionte, Cindy Marchionda, Drew Morris, Fred Ornstein, and Christopher Railey. At the Actors' Playhouse, 8851 SW 107th Ave, through December 29th. Performances Wednesday -- Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. Tickets cost $18.50 -- $22.50, with discount plans available. Call 595-0010 for more information.

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