Theatre Review: ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ at Lancaster Opera House

Anyone who made it through their high school English class is probably familiar—at least from a 30,000 foot view—of the story of Anne Frank and her family. If you’re like me, your memory of her story is relatively vague: a little girl and her family hide out in a secret annex above an office building during World War II to hide from Nazi forces, and end up living there for over two years.  After seeing the superb production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” currently playing at the Lancaster Opera House, I was reminded of the beauty, humanity, and great sadness of Anne’s story, which was masterfully conveyed through a cast of spectacular actors who brought nuance and depth to their characters. I came to the Lancaster Opera House with only a hazy knowledge of Anne Frank’s story, and left feeling like I had known her for years.

. . .wall-to-wall stellar acting performances. . .

Based upon “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and adapted for the stage by Wendy Kesselman, “The Diary of Anne Frank” tells the story of a young Jewish girl named Anne (Mira Steuer) who—along with her entire family, another family, and a dentist named Mr. Dussel (Ian Michalski)—spend over two years hiding from the Nazi forces in an annex above an office building in Amsterdam in 1942. In this annex, Anne comes of age: she laughs, plays, fights with her mother, and falls in love for the first time. The play chronicles not only Anne and her coming-of-age, but how these families maintained hope and continued to love despite the horrors and atrocities happening outside their walls. It is no surprise to those who have read the book that eventually the annex is discovered by Nazi officers and the Franks, van Daan’s and Mr. Dussel are all sent to concentration camps where–as we learn through a transcending final monologue from Otto Frank (Stan Klimecko)—all the annex’s inhabitants but him are killed, including Anne.

Perhaps the most resonating element of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is how the play demonstrates the persistence of the human spirit. Throughout their two-plus years in the annex the Franks, the van Daans, and Mr. Dussel refuse to let their present circumstances break them. They sing, they play games, they celebrate Hanukkah, and they learn how to acclimate to their new existence; the cast perfectly captured the everyday minutia of daily life. While they all show the signs of strain and stress pretty plainly, it is absolutely captivating to watch eight people (and a cat) live in a cramped attic for over two years and learn how to—within reason and with many concessions—continue day-to-day life. This is a true testament to the talent of this show’s cast.

It’s hard to elevate any one acting performance, because they were all spectacular. Ian Michalski was simultaneously hilarious and irritating as Mr. Dussel; both Stan Klimecko and Caitlin Baeumler Coleman gave masterful performances as the Frank parents; David C. Mitchell and Josie DiVincenzo perfectly captured the marital strain and daily stresses of the van Daan’s; and David Butler demonstrated the frustration and teen angst of Peter van Daan. The tour-de-force performance, however, was from Mira Steuer. Mira was inspiring, completely capturing Anne Frank’s unbreakable spirit. Mira is only a freshman in high school, and is surely goin’ places.

In addition to the wall-to-wall stellar acting performances, enough good words can’t be said about this show’s set and production design. Particularly effective was the use of space, and the choice for each family to be designated to a different level of the stage (annex); it allowed for the audience to view the Franks, van Daan’s, and Mr. Dussel simultaneously and conveyed how cramped and uncomfortable their living space was. The use of original radio broadcasts was effective at transporting the audience back to the WWII setting. The period-era props and attention to the set’s detail is a testament to Director David Bondrow and Set Designer David Dwyer.

The Lancaster Opera House’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” is of the highest caliber and truly a Broadway-quality show. You are sure to be moved.

Running time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission

“The Diary of Anne Frank” runs until February 18th and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here