Lori Mooney, left, and Diana Rissetto have written a musical comedy about Anne Frank, or more accurately, about her sister, Margot, and a high school girl’s questions about identity.
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March 27, 2008
What if Margot, Anne Frank’s big sister, also kept a diary? What if hers offered a different perspective on life in the annex?
What if her diary revealed different truths — that it was she and Peter who were in love, not Anne and Peter, or that Albert Dussel, really Dr. Fritz Pfeffer, was actually a lovely fellow and not the fat, bald, selfish man as portrayed in Anne’s diary?
And what if Anne were actually, in Margot’s words, “a conniving little [rhymes with witch]”?
Most of all, what if someone wrote a play based on the premise and turned it into a musical comedy?
Writers Diana Rissetto and Lori Mooney are about to find out, when their show, Margot Frank: The Diary of the Other Young Girl, will be performed at the Shea Center for the Performing Arts at William Paterson University. The musical won the university’s fourth annual New Jersey Playwright Contest competition and will be performed April 9 through 14.
Ed Matthews, producer of the competition, said the play was selected as a semifinalist over the summer and was one of three works that had staged readings in the fall. Margot Frank was chosen as the winning play based largely on audience members’ — mostly students — response to those readings, although a committee composed of faculty and others made the formal selection.
“We got so much positive feedback,” said Matthews. “Everyone seemed to get, powerfully, the idea of how people get left behind and left out.”
Neither Mooney, of the Bronx, nor Rissetto, of Ocean Township, is Jewish. The two met eight years ago while in college, working as reporters for Teen People magazine. While Rissetto had previously worked on stage plays and screenplays, Mooney has had no prior experience with the medium.
The 26-year-olds said the project came out of their joint “obsession” with Anne Frank, the young Dutch writer who would die at Bergen-Belsen.
“It was a topic in elementary school, then we watched the movie [The Diary of Anne Frank], and I became interested,” said Mooney. “I read every version of the diary that came out, and I read every book about her.
“We knew Margot also kept a diary but no one ever found it. It could have been brilliant, too. We said, we should write a musical about that. It was kind of a big joke.”
The two began to brainstorm.
“Diana said, ‘What if Margot saw Peter first; what if they were really together?’” recalled Mooney. “I said, ‘What if she sang a whole song that it was really Margot and Peter, because they are the same age?’”
As the ideas started flowing, the two decided to make a go of it. If their approach to the material is often irreverent, their goal, they said, is serious.
To make the concept a little more palatable, they made their work a play-within-a-play. Margot Frank is set in a contemporary American high school, where Min-Go Friedman, a Chinese girl adopted by Jewish parents, has been denied the role of Anne Frank in the school play because she doesn’t look the part. Min-Go begins to consider whether there might be something skewed not only in the teacher’s perspective but in Anne’s as well.
Eventually, Min-Go imagines a musical, with such numbers as “Can’t Go Out Tonight Cause I’m Locked in an Attic” and “Second Most Famous Jew.” And, oh yes, Jesus likes to talk to Margot Frank in the play that is within Margot Frank: The Diary of the Other Young Girl. (Blame it on cool high school guy Walter, who wants to reprise his role as the title character in Jesus Christ Superstar from several years before.)
Although sometimes hilarious, the show is a serious attempt to ponder the voices silenced by the Holocaust and history, said Mooney.
“Eleven million people died in the Holocaust and Anne Frank is the only person [many] people can name,” she said. “She put a human face on the tragedy, but what about the other 11 million? Or even about the other people in the attic? If we did this as a serious story, the message might be lost.”
As an example of one of those others, Mooney reflects on Pfeffer, one of the eight people hiding in the Secret Annex in an Amsterdam office building. Depicted in Anne’s diary as the bumbling Albert Dussel, Pfeffer is the subject of a long-standing controversy over whether he was portrayed unfairly.
“Dr. Pfeffer was a cultured, educated man whose reputation was ruined” by the diary, said Mooney. “His wife had a nervous breakdown over his character in the diary.”
The coauthors also consider how later movie and play versions leave out the character of Bep Voskuijl, one of the people who helped those hiding in the Secret Annex. In their play, Bep is repeatedly ignored while Miep Gies, the best known of the “helpers,” is celebrated in over-the-top fashion.
“Even when we remember these people, we forget Bep. And here, as we remember Margot, even she forgets Bep,” said Rissetto.
As for controversy the play may stir up, Mooney and Rissetto said they’re ready. Mooney practically winks into the phone as she describes their next joint venture: “We may be doing that Helen Keller musical together someday soon.”
MARGOT FRANK: The Diary of the Other Young Girl will be staged at the Shea Center for the Performing Arts at William Paterson University in Wayne. The play’s book and lyrics are by Lori Mooney and Diana Rissetto, the music is by Cooper Cerulo and Michael Sangiovanni, and the director is Edward Matthews.
Preview performances — Wednesday, April 9, at 8 p.m. and Thursday, April 10, at 12:30 p.m. — cost $8. Regular performances are April 11 and 12, 8 p.m.; April 13, 3 p.m.; and April 14, 8 p.m. Tickets cost $16, $12 for seniors and members of the William Paterson community, $9 for William Paterson and high school students.
To purchase tickets, call 973-720-2371.
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