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Editorial: Anne Frank still the 'friend' so many need today

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The Diary of Anne Frank MMT logo

“You’ve known for a long time that my greatest wish is to be a journalist, and later on, a famous writer,” wrote a German-born Jewish teenager named Anne Frank on May 11, 1944. “We’ll have to wait and see if these grand illusions (or delusions!) will ever come true, but up to now I’ve had no lack of topics.”

About a month shy of her 15th birthday, Anne already had big ambitions for her writing career post-World War II. “After the war I’d like to publish a book called ‘The Secret Annex.’ It remains to be seen whether I’ll succeed, but my diary can serve as the basis.”

Anne Frank’s diary has reportedly sold more than 30 million copies, been translated into more than 70 languages, adapted into a Pulitzer and Tony award-winning play and a movie that garnered three Oscars. Yet its spirited young author did not live to see its publication. She died in the Nazi German Bergen-Belsen concentration camp only a few weeks before the Allied forces liberated it.

“The Secret Annex” she referred to in that passage was the collection of small rooms inside her father Otto Frank’s business in Amsterdam where her family and four other Jews hid for two years while German forces occupied the Netherlands. In September 1944, Dutch informers betrayed the hiding place to the Nazis. Of the four members of the Frank family, only Otto survived. After finding Anne’s diary, he devoted himself to realizing her dream. June marked the 75th anniversary of the first publication of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

Fate orchestrated the season schedules of Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke such that the professional company’s own production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” coincides a bit with this anniversary. Originally MMT slated these performances for 2020, part of a season that ended up being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The prominence and the relevance of that story is still important to talk about today,” said Mill Mountain Producing Artistic Director Ginger Poole. “That was our initial interest and desire to produce this.”

These words from a precocious young girl writing under harrowing and ultimately tragic circumstances continue to have resonance the world over. An NPR story published Sept. 11 spotlights a secret book club in Kabul for Afghan girls living under oppressive Taliban rule. The girls, reading Anne Frank translated into Farsi, recognized themselves in her story and took heart in her determination to resist despair, describing her as a “friend.”

“She never gave up hope,” Poole said, and in detailing day to day life in the secret space, Frank provided reminders for future generations that “the little things are important, that when everything is stripped away, it’s those tiny things at the end of the day that might be the glue to your family.”

Even if you know the book or the 1955 play that premiered on Broadway, the version MMT is mounting might prove a fresh experience. In 1997, playwright and screenwriter Wendy Kesselman created a revised version of the classic dramatization by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett that brings Anne’s voice and thoughts to the fore.

“She does it in an incredible way where she really captures those family dynamics,” presented through the lens of “these inner thoughts of a young girl,” conveying a true innocence that “in the end makes it even more tragic and heartbreaking,” Poole said.

Mill Mountain’s production mixes local actors such as 16-year-old Cave Spring High School student Elise LeGault, who plays Anne Frank, with Broadway veterans like Jane Labanz (“Anything Goes,” “The King and I”) and Jonathan Brody (“Spamalot,” “Titanic”). It’s as excellent an opportunity as any to get reacquainted with this tale that transcends history.

In today’s hyper-polarized political climate, Anne Frank’s words resonate with more power and fragility than ever: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”

Mill Mountain Theatre’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” will be performed Sept. 21-Oct. 2 on the Trinkle Mainstage in downtown Roanoke’s Center in the Square. For tickets and more information visit



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