Maddy Richardson, Elizabeth “Libby” Winkler, Bailey Evans, & Jennice Butler in Number The Stars. Photo: Natosha Via
Number The Stars
By Dr. Douglas W. Larche
With Susan Elliot Larche
Based on the Newbery Award-winning novel by Lois Lowry
Directed by Andrew D. Harris
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
One year after delivering a stellar production of Lois Lowry’s The Giver Stage One Family Theatre has returned with another classic Lowry novel, Number The Stars.
The story is about Annemarie Johansen, a 10-year-old girl who lives in Denmark during the World War II Nazi occupation of that country. Her neighbor and best friend, Ellen Rosen, is Jewish, and after the Allied forces invaded Europe on June 6, 1944, the German Army began rounding up the Jews in Denmark to be relocated.
Number The Stars is different from so many World War II and Holocaust stories because it is far away from the epicenter of the mammoth effort to collect and exterminate the Jewish population of Europe, far from the Warsaw ghetto, far from Treblinka and Auschwitz. The King of Denmark surrendered to the Nazi military after seeing what was happening in surrounding countries. Knowing the Danish forces didn’t stand a chance, he saved thousands of lives avoiding a useless slaughter.
At one point Papa Johansen tells Annemarie that the Jews will most likely be taken “to some sort of camp”, the exact nature of which he refuses to ponder out loud. So it is interesting to be left in the dark about how it is that the adults in the story understand how high the stakes are. We engage in the narrative at the kid’s level but also easily fill in the blanks of all of the innuendos in the coded language used by the adults to protect the children.
Of course, the children understand far more than we imagine, or else why does Annemarie show such courage when the time comes? Perhaps Lowry’s story is as much, if not more, about the deep connections that make us risk and sacrifice for each other than anything else. Six million Jews were killed but how many were saved by such actions? Not enough, of course, but the stories of people doing what they could are part of the history. This is why “Denmark’s Jewish community has one of the highest rates of survival for any German-occupied European country.”
Number the Stars is one of several Holocaust stories targeting a young audience. The Diary of Anne Frank is the best known, and The Hiding Place is another, and if they seem overly familiar ( that play, AGAIN?) can they be revisited too often? The need to be reminded of history lest we forget is in the daily news blogs on such a routine basis that one might ask rather are we doing enough to tell and retell these stories. Maybe productions of these plays should be so ubiquitous as to be a part of daily conversation.
Director Andrew Harris has a terrific set by Tom Tutino and a more-than-capable cast to work in and around it. Stage One veterans like Megan Ware, Zac Hoogendyk, and Branden Meeks are here for smaller and multiple roles, while J. Barrett Cooper and Jennice Butler assay Papa and Mama Johansen with verve and intelligence, a couple whose personal grief is the foundation of how they greet the coming storm. John Vessels is a warm and vivid Uncle Henrik, and Tai Rosenblatt is a dashing figure as Peter, their friend and member of the resistance. Meeks and David Hussey both find some common humanity in a German soldier; an important reminder that great evil is usually carried out in the hands of ordinary people. It falls to Hoogendyk to play a more overt villain as an SS officer. He pushes but not too far. How far do you need to push when you are onstage in that uniform and the swastika is on your arm?
Yet the very notion that that symbol is seen by some as not obscene but something else is exactly why Number The Stars bears revisiting.
The children are double cast, and in the preview performance I attended Maya Bonifer was an energetic and emotional Annemarie, and Ivy George didn’t go overboard with the whiny sibling stereotype even through most of the lines given to Annemarie’s younger sister almost demand it, but Julia Howe was an especially fine Ellen Rosen, full of deep grief and sadness.
Featuring Jennice Butler, Meg Caudill, J. Barrett Cooper, Zac Campbell-Hoogendyk, David Hussey, Megan Massie, Brandon Meeks, Tony Milder, Tai Rosenblatt, & John Vessels
Red cast for youth roles: Maya Bonifer, Ivy George, Julia Howe, & Jack Masterson
Green cast for youth roles: Bailey Evans, Ada Milliner, Maddy Richardson, & Elizabeth “Libby” Winkler
Number The Stars
February 3 & 10 @ 2:00 pm & 5:00 pm
*Sensory Friendly performance February 10 at 2 pm
StageOne Family Theatre
Kentucky Center for Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.