The Book Thief Play in Chicago

Thursday, October 25, 2012

(In front of the theatre after the play)

The first time I read The Book Thief in 2007 I fell instantly for the book. I’ve reread it since then and each time my love for it has grown. So when I heard that it was chosen as this year’s One Book One Town for Chicago and it would be made into a play as part of the programming, I was thrilled!

I immediately planned a weekend trip to the windy city to see the show with friends. I was a bit nervous about how it would translate to the stage. How would the narrator, Death, be portrayed? What about Liesel and Rudy, child actors can be off-putting, would they be over the top?

Turns out I had nothing to worry about. It was so beautifully done I could hardly believe it. The book was adapted by Heidi Stillman and each choice was carefully made. Death is played by a friendly middle-aged man. He comes across as curious and kind and is instantly relatable. I can’t imagine how off-putting it would have been to have a lurking Grim Reaper figure trying to tell the story.

Rudy was by far one of the best parts of the show. He is so sweet and sincere, Death puts it beautifully when he says, "He just steps on your heart!" Papa and Mama were just right as well. Papa was kind, caring for Liesel and Max in his quiet way. Mama was brash at first, but the audience quickly realized how deeply she loved her family.

Liesel came across as hard and vulnerable all at the same time, just as she did in the book. She deals with so much heartbreak at such a young age, but she’s still just a girl. Her sobs as she cradles her brother’s body in the opening scene was enough to break you heart.

(The Stage)

The stage was bleak and simple. The edges of the stages’ frame have the look of torn pages. There were also three large strips in the background that were used to show depth. At times one would be lit up with a color that Death saw. Other times there were real videos from World War II, bomber planes or marching soldiers, projected on one of the strips.  

Another great addition was a trio of live musicians performing throughout the show. They were costumed to look like the German civilians in the show. One of them played his accordion every time Papa played for Liesel on the stage. It was truly beautiful.

We stayed for a discussion after the show and it was such a joy to hear the reactions of different audience members. Young students were talking about standing up for what’s right even when it’s hard. Adults were talking about the grief of loosing those you love. The story deals with so many issues that it crosses the divides between gender and age with ease. It is a universal tale, one that means something different to each person who reads or sees it.

I can’t say enough about this excellent performance. I hope that it is successful and is produced in other cities. If not, I hope that people will read the book no matter where they live and allow their own imaginations to create the scene in their heads.
For more information about the play and One Book One Town programming visit these sites.

Suey at It's All About Books is hosting a week-long celebration of Markus Zusak's books. Make sure you check it out here


Ana S. said...

This sounds absolutely amazing, and you're so lucky to have had the chance to see it. Thanks for sharing it with us and giving us a glimpse!

Amanda said...

Huh. Maybe I'd like this better in play format. I didn't dislike the book, but I didn't like it either, one of those rare books that end up right in the middle, you know? But maybe seeing it on stage would be a completely new experience! :)

Jeanne said...

I would love to see this on stage...I hope it travels!

Laurel Hasner Photo said...

What a rich, beautiful review! I'm so glad we got to see this together! You are so talented! Reading your take on something we both saw at the same time, makes me feel like I missed so many aspects of it that I should go see it again!!!! :)

Sandy Nawrot said...

They should so totally do this on Broadway. I mean, hasn't like the entire world read this book and fallen in love with Rudy? It is SUCH a perfect, beautiful book. So envious of your experience here, but maybe if it is successful enough, it will become bigger and I'll have a chance somehow to see it.

Suey said...

Oh, it sounds so awesome! I'm so glad you had the chance to see it. And here's hoping it does end up making the rounds so the rest of us can see it. Though, I'm still scared of it. I will have to take many kleenexes!

(I'm linking to you on tomorrow's post...hopefully people will come your way!)

Kristi said...

This sounds so incredible. I'm glad you were able to go and that the play worked well. Like you said, it doesn't seem like a book that would translate well to stage so that's really impressive. I hope they will take it to other cities. I would love a chance to watch it.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Ana - That's how I feel everytime you post on the Edinburgh Book Festival or other things. I get to see a tiny piece of it, I love it!

Amanda - Everyone is different. I wonder if you would like it more as a play. It would be interesting to find out.

Jeanne - I hope it travels!

Laurel - I'm so glad you went to the show and loved it! It was such a fun weekend!

Sandy - I know! Now I want to read the book again.

Suey - I won't lie, there were definitely some tears.

Kristi - I was really surprised that the translation to the stage was so smooth!

Anonymous said...

I am speechless with jealous. Wait. I'll say one thing. Thank you so much for sharing the experience. :)

Captain Nick Sparrow said...

Your descriptive review put me there with you! Thanks for sharing. I love that book.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jessica - Of course! I love hearing about it when other people see authors speak, etc.

Captain - Me too, it's one I recommend to everyone!

Jenners said...

Sounds like they did an amazing job adapting it. I wouldn't have thought it would make a good play but it seems like it was terrific. If I ever get a chance to see it, I will leap at it!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - I had no idea how they were going to turn it into a play, but they did such a great job! I still don't know about it ever becoming a film though.

Unknown said...

Oh, man, what a cool experience! I can't believe it was right here in Chicago, too. Drat! I still haven't seen the movie... it's on On Demand right now, though, so I may rent it soon. My partner is not interested, so I'll have to find a time to watch it by myself. =/

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Adam - It was really wonderful, definitely worth a drive up from Indy! The movie is good. It can't compare with the book, but I thought they did a great job with it.