This is the first in a series of posts regarding the new musical “The Diary,” which will be playing at the Scherr Forum for five performances from August 22 through August 25. The musical is based on the life of Anne Frank, with an unusual scenario in its staging: with the events pertaining to the Frank family’s exile in the Amsterdam annex paralleled by a modern-day teenager’s relationship with her mother, which is affected when the young girl starts reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The show is directed by Broadway veteran Allan Hunt, who teaches theater arts at Oak Park High School. The score, written by Lloyd Cooper with assistance from his wife Barbara (who plays the modern-day mother in the show) contains songs of great power, beauty, and elegance. At times, the songs resemble the work of Richard Rodgers, which I noted after attending a recent rehearsal of the show at OPHS. The Coopers sat down to discuss the show with me in a conversation that will be featured here in segments over the coming days before the premiere.
VCOS: Tell me about the genesis of the idea that led to the production of “The Diary.”
BARBARA: In 2005 we were in New York City. Lloyd was doing a workshop with Garry Marshall for “Happy Days.” As you know, Paul Williams wrote the score for that show. Paul’s musical director was there as well while Lloyd was working on musical director for “Happy Days.” So Paul and his wife and Lloyd and I were having drinks in the hotel where we were staying and they also had their daughter staying with them. Well, they made a comment and said, “We’re really worried about our daughter.” And we said, “Why? We’re in the same building. She’s in the hotel.” “No,” Paul said. “She’s reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and it’s really affecting her emotionally.” That’s all that was said about it. The next night, when Lloyd and I went out to dinner, he said, “I wonder why nobody’s written a musical about Anne Frank.” So I said, “So, you’ll write it.” The next day, I went out and bought everything I could find on Anne Frank and said, “Here, have something on my desk in the morning.” And that’s how it started.
VCOS: How about the premise of using a modern-day teenage girl?
LLOYD: I was reading Anne’s diary, and I think the first thing I actually wrote was “You Are Me.” We were on a walk one day with our dog and were just talking about it and came up with the idea of the present-day girl reading the diary.
VCOS: Did you try to get the rights to use the book?
LLOYD: The original script actually quoted quite a bit from the actual diary. We contacted Budi Elias, who is Anne Frank’s cousin and is in charge of the Anne Frank Foundation and in charge of all copyrights, and he basically said we couldn’t use anything from the book that is copyrighted material. So we proceeded to rewrite it, and although the story is based on what she wrote, there are no direct quotes from it. So the scenes and all the dialog is original. Even though Anne wrote dialog in her book, we couldn’t use it.
VCOS: As far as the songs go, there is this dichotomy between the present day and the Frank family during World War II. Do the styles of the songs they song differ?
LLOYD: Absolutely. The orchestrations that the Frank family performs in the annex have a lot of Jewish flavor. Clarinet and violin are the major instruments in what we’re using at the Scherr Forum. The present-day songs are much more contemporary in the orchestrations; we have the reeds doubling on sax, which doesn’t happen in the annex songs. So you’ll definitely hear different flavors of music.
OUR CONVERSATION WITH THE COOPERS ABOUT “THE DIARY” WILL CONTINUE LATER THIS WEEK.
For dates and show times for “The Diary,” see the VC On Stage Calendar of Events.