It sounds like the perfect recipe for a hit: Hire a veteran ensemble (including Alice’s Linda Lavin and La Cage aux Folles’ George Hearn), add Natalie Portman (Beautiful Girls), and put them in The Diary of Anne Frank. But some funny things have happened on the way to Broadway, where Anne Frank began previews on Nov. 21.
First, the producers took the risky step of tinkering with Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s beloved 1955 drama by enlisting playwright Wendy Kesselman (I Love You, I Love You Not) to incorporate more entries from Frank’s diary, upon which the play is based — specifically passages about her budding sexuality. Then New Yorker writer Cynthia Ozick interviewed Portman and blasted her ”shallowly upbeat” interpretation of the title role, the Dutch girl who hid with her family during the Holocaust. Ozick’s rant put Portman, 16, on the defensive: ”It is truer to the actual diary than any of the previous [productions] have been,” she argues. The criticism also made this revival a sitting duck for critics. Indeed, when Anne Frank opened in Boston on Nov. 4, it got raves except from the most influential outlet, The Boston Globe.
Director James Lapine (Into the Woods) went to work adding and moving scenes. Finally, the Globe revisited the production and praised the polish and Kesselman’s poetic additions, but Anne Frank’s worries were not over: Before the cast left for New York, Rachel Miner — who played Anne’s older sister Margot — was hit by a car and had to be replaced. Lavin, who stars as Mrs. Van Daan, is taking the hubbub in stride: ”Any adaptation will either be fulfilling or disappointing to people,” she says, ”but if the audience can laugh and cry during the two-hour show, then we’ve done our jobs, and that’s all we can do.”