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Fury over Anne Frank musical

art-and-culture Updated: Feb 07, 2008 14:37 IST

AFP
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A Spanish musical based on the diary of Anne Frank has split those charged with protecting the legacy of this young Holocaust victim, including her last living relative who is furious the story has been set to song.

He and other critics say a format meant to entertain is unacceptable and will stray from the brutal truth of her book, published in 1947 and since read by millions, while backers insist it will help spread her message of tolerance.

The controversy has jarred director Rafael Alvero, who got the idea 10 years ago when he was working in Amsterdam and visited the tiny apartment where the Jewish teenager and her family hid from the Nazis in World War II.

"It really moved me, and I felt I would one day bring the feelings which the place, and the story, evoke to the public through something which I do with ease, which is produce music," he told AFP.

"The Diary of Anne Frank: a Song to Life" is set to open in one of Madrid's biggest theatres, Teatro Calderon, on February 28 and run to July. Alvero, who heads the Spanish federation of cinemas, insists it is "very faithful" to the diary Anne wrote during 25 months in hiding. But Buddy Elias, her 82-year-old cousin who heads the Swiss-based Anne Frank Fonds that holds the sole copyright to "The Diary of a Young Girl", remains fiercely opposed.

"We are very much against it, the Holocaust is not a theme to be made into a musical," Elias told AFP by telephone. The Fonds had not opposed earlier film, theatre and TV adaptations because they were considered "realistic", he said. But it has no recourse against Alvero's musical since it does not quote directly from Anne's diary. "We are helpless, we can't do anything against it," said Elias.

On the other side is the Anne Frank Foundation, which runs the museum in the Amsterdam canal-side building where the Frank family hid. The theatre company worked closely with the foundation to ensure it got details right.

"This production respects the message of tolerance, within the tragedy, that we want to keep alive," Jan Erik Dubbelman, head of the foundation's international department, said when the cast visited there last month. "Being in Spanish, it can also help to take the message of Anne Frank to Latin America."

The debate has drawn some high-profile attention abroad, including British theatre critic Michael Billington who opposes the show. "A musical will surely take us even further from the world of raw truth," he wrote in his online blog, adding "the musical as a form, demands uplift. And however moving the story of Anne Frank's inner life, it is one that ends tragically."

The Frank family fled Nazi Germany to Amsterdam in 1933. They moved into a secret annex above her father Otto's canal-side office building in July 1942 after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and set about exterminating its Jews. The family was ultimately betrayed and arrested in 1944, and Anne died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp the following year at age of 15.

Her diary has been published in more than 67 languages. The show's producers have released a "teaser" song ahead the opening in what was seen as a bid to allay concern. Called "Radio Querida" or "Dear Radio", it is a tribute to the medium that kept Anne in touch with the outside world.

"Dear radio, I am tired of being locked up. I want to be a bird to fly and not return," sings 13-year-old Cuban actress Isabella Castillo, who plays the role of Anne -- and whose own flight from Cuba with her mother as a toddler to hiding in Belize before moving to Miami is being compared to Anne's story.

Alvero, meanwhile, points to other musicals like "Les Miserables", from Victor Hugo's sprawling novel, and "Jesus Christ Superstar" that have tackled serious topics. "I don't think we have trivialised this story in any way," he said.