Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s 1955 play The Diary of Anne Frank is well known and much produced. Dreams of Anne Frank, a 1992 play-with-music by playwright-lyricist Bernard Kops and composer David Burman, is a lesser-known piece aimed at young audiences.
Area Stage in Coral Gables, known in part for its ambitious conservatory shows, has chosen the latter version for its newest professional production. The cast features Equity actor Carlos Orizondo as Anne’s father Otto; adult actors Santiago Sierra (Mr. Van Daan), Javier Alcina (Mr. Dussel) and Yanina Aranes (Edith Frank); and students Andrea Ferro (Anne), Giancarlo Rodaz (Peter Van Daan), Stephanie de Quesada (Mrs. Van Daan) and Shelby Phillips (Margot Frank).
Director John Rodaz, who also designed the impressive set and lighting, has put together a production that is expressionistic, appropriately dreamlike and at times haunting. But the show’s roots as a play aimed at younger theatergoers sometimes undermine it. Playfulness is one thing, absurd silliness another, and Kops’ just-serviceable script contains both.
The characters familiar from Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and the Goodrich-Hackett play are present in the hidden Amsterdam annex attic that was home to the Franks, the Van Daans and Dussel the dentist from 1942 until betrayal sent them all to concentration camps in 1944 (Miep Gies, who helped the families and found Anne’s diary after the war’s end, isn’t depicted ).
Choreographer Danielle Kipnis uses movement to suggest the tedium of that life and the moments that break it: Otto and Edith Frank dancing close as Anne belts the Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz ballad Dancing in the Dark, Anne and Mrs. Van Daan skittering among Black Forest “trees” (the other actors) toward a gingerbread house and so on.
Musical director-pianist Rick Kaydas and percussionist Riyan Hecker provide unobtrusive but atmospheric incidental music as well as accompanying the actors on such songs as Helping Hands, the peppy When the War Is Over and the not-quite-accurate Hitler Is Dead.
Orizondo anchors the cast as the stoic, responsible, empathetic Otto. Aranes, who sports a great period look, is a stronger actor than singer. Sierra and Alcina are both rather goofy. De Quesada, only a couple years older than the actor playing her son, isn’t mature or nuanced enough to play the self-centered Mrs. Van Daan. Phillips is a sweet Margot, and Giancarlo Rodaz brings a deliberately awkward charm to Peter. As Anne, the pretty Ferro has the vocal chops to effectively deliver her songs (though a bit more dreaminess and longing would improve Dancing in the Dark), but the high school junior needs to relax and not push so hard when she’s acting.
Dreams of Anne Frank has an educational as well as artistic purpose. It is aimed at enlightening young people about the harrowing truths of World War II and the Holocaust, while celebrating the power of courage and imagination as reflected in Anne’s famous diary. But those who already know about this tragic time in history, those who know Anne’s story, will take more away from Kops’ play, which is painted in broad strokes as it tries to portray Anne’s interior life and the fantasies that helped sustain her.