There’s a lovely, touching production of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK playing through this weekend, presented and performed by the acclaimed Boston Children’s Theatre in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Anne Frank’s death. On stage at the Calderwood Pavilion, the BCT production is impressive not only because of its sophisticated production values, but also because of the fully realized performances by this troupe of area student actors– especially the extraordinary Zehava Younger in the title role.

These are perhaps the best known victims of the Holocaust, the ones who almost made it, hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic for two years before being betrayed, sent off to concentration camps, and dying–some of them within days of the liberation. The play is based on these events immortalized during World War II by 13 year-old Anne in her diary “Kitty,” saved by her father Otto who managed to survive.

As Anne, Zehava Younger is a miracle. She looks like Anne and absolutely captures who we imagine this budding young teen must have been: irrepressible, provocatively curious and intelligent, endlessly optimistic. Ms. Younger is a natural, with great charisma effortlessly conveying Anne’s yearning to live life to the fullest in spite of being cruelly trapped, pouring her heart and soul into her writing.

Also affecting are Alex Hanscom and Kira Shannon, dignified yet warm as Anne’s parents. Elle Shaheen impresses as the courageous Miep Gies, Isabelle Luongo is subtle and winning as Anne’s quieter older sister. Kevin Paquette and Shayna Bredbeck add humor and drama as the volatile Van Daan’s who share the tight quarters.

I know this story like the back of my hand, but I was fully engaged once again, still hoping for them to escape, still heartbroken when they don’t, still moved by the radiance of Anne’s spirit that survives. In other words, this BCT student-centered production makes this story live again–and that’s real theater. See THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at the BCA’s Wimberly Theatre Calderwood Pavilion only through this weekend MAY 2!

mckee_20150422_791I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning rock opera JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR now playing at the Strand Theatre. This is an ambitious production which resets the musical about the public life and death of Jesus Christ against the backdrop of 9/11. The sets and costumes are fine, lighting and effects often quite good, and the voices–especially that of Justin Raymond Reeves as JC Himself–are excellent. There’s one glaring  exception; S. Caron as Mary Magdalene. She looks fine and I like the idea of Magdalene as an ambiguously sexual outcast, but a better vocalist would have done the role justice. Here the big emotional ballad “I don’t know how to Love Him,” is off key and wobbles uncomfortably between a solid chest voice and an awkward falsetto. It’s a downer.

Amateurish ticks hang on: back up dancer/singers lack energy and I don’t want to see them hiking down their costumes, or hear back stage chatter during scene changes; musical numbers lacked shape and focus. Why is JC traipsing sideways upstage instead of standing still, center stage, at the climax of his anguished solo on the eve of his death?

But there’s a much larger problem, and that is–this idea made flesh. Making the Crucifixion about the fickleness of fame in the whiz bang world of viral fame and modern media-driven society trivializes the central myth of Christianity to a degree that’s laughable. None of these characters seem believable in this setting and the reinterpretation doesn’t afford them a reasonable place at the table. The          re-positioning of The Last Supper on a metal I-beam in the middle of the rubble of 9/11 looks clever–but why are they there?? And who is literally killing this Jesus? Who is Herod? Pilate? Judas in this reality? I didn’t buy it, and that’s a crime–maybe even a sin. Luckily, this JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR has been trimmed to 90 minutes, no intermission, through May 3 at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.