February 5, 2008 / 12:15 AM / in 10 years

Spanish turn Anne Frank diary into musical

<p>Cuban actress Isabella Castillo (C), who plays the role of Anne Frank, performs with fellow actors during a media rehearsal of the musical "Anne Frank: A Song to Life" in Madrid February 4, 2008.REUTERS/Susana Vera</p>

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish producers have turned the life of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who wrote a diary while hiding from Nazis, into a musical, tearing up the genre’s widely held convention of light-hearted, sugar-coated tale.

The Spanish-language production: “Anne Frank, A Song to Life” chronicles the German-born girl’s experiences hiding in an attic in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944, before the Frank family were betrayed and sent to camps where Anne died of typhus.

The 3 million euro ($4.5 million) production, closer in style to Les Miserables than Cats, is the first of its kind to focus on Frank’s life.

Director Rafael Alvaro, who came up with the idea for the musical 10 years ago, said the show’s aim was to project a vision of hope and optimism. He defended it against accusations that the subject was too serious to be made into a musical.

Buddy Elias, Frank’s 82-year-old cousin and only surviving relative has said his charity, the Anne Frank Fonds, was firmly against the show: “The Holocaust is not a theme to be made into a musical,” he has been reported as saying.

Alvaro said his production was a sensitive portrait of Frank’s life and pointed out that it had the backing of the Anne Frank House organization which runs a museum in the canalside warehouse where Anne hid in a secret annex behind a false bookcase.

“If the musical -- done in an exquisite, delicate, important way -- reaches the great public not only here but worldwide, that is success for me,” he told Reuters after presenting the production to journalists at Madrid’s Calderon Theatre.

<p>Cuban actress Isabella Castillo, who plays the role of Anne Frank, performs during a media rehearsal of the musical "Anne Frank: A Song to Life" in Madrid February 4, 2008.REUTERS/Susana Vera</p>

Anne was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and then Bergen-Belsen where she died aged 15 along with her sister Margot in March 1945, a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the British Army.

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Alvaro searched for actors via a simple message on the Internet: “Looking for Anne Frank,” and eventually cast Cuban Isabella Castillo in the role of Anne.

The 13-year-old from Havana, who despite her youth sings ‘Anne Frank‘s’ emotional melodies with confidence and poise, said it was a privilege to play the part of someone so courageous.

“You find this girl in such bad circumstances (but) she always finds hope. That has helped me a lot,” Castillo told Reuters.

Producers say they may take the musical on tour and translate it into other languages after its run in Madrid which starts on February 28.

Anne Frank’s father Otto survived the camps and returned to the Netherlands where he published Anne’s diary which had been kept safe by friends. It has since become one of the world’s most widely read books.

Reporting by Ben Harding and Temis Tormo; Editing by Charles Dick

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