PLEASE NOTE: THE SIZE OF THE CAST AND ENSEMBLE IS FLEXIBLE AND WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE QUALITY OF AUDITIONS AND THE SCOPE FOR DOUBLE CASTING OF MINOR SPEAKING PARTS.
(Please note: There is obviously very clear physical features mentioned in the novel. These will not be considered as a factor during auditions. I am looking for the spirit of the character not the physical equivalent.)
Death one of two key narrators of the play. S/he is not the evil figure that is so often presented in other literature. Instead, s/he is sympathetic to innocent people who have to have their souls collected far too soon during times of war. S/he is also a touch cynical when it comes to humans’ ability to change and spots the patterns of evil. S/he feels extremely overworked during WWII.
Old Liesel Meminger
Old Liesel Meminger is the other key narrator of the play. Liesel survives WWII and immigrates to Australia where she lives a long (and presumably) happy life. When she dies in old age, Death collects her and returns an autobiography that she wrote as a child living in Germany. Old Liesel and Death recollect memories mentioned in the book.
Young Liesel Meminger
Young Liesel starts the play as 9 year old and ends it as a 14 year old. This will present a challenge for the actor because she will need to show this growing maturity throughout the play. Liesel is characterized as a bit of a tomboy at the beginning, getting into fights and playing football in the street with skill. She also has a way with words and this sensitivity leads her to eventually write her own autobiography.
Rosa Hubermann is the foster mother of Liesel. She is loud, argumentative and foul-mouthed but also has a heart of gold. She is described as being “a good woman for a crisis”. At times, she reveals a softer side which has presumably been hidden order to survive the difficult economic hardships that have been presented throughout the years. Making the audience see this softer side will be the challenge for the actor playing this role.
Hans is Liesel's foster father and one of the great loves of her life. He has a gentle, easygoing manner and shares Rudy’s desire for equality and fairness. His gentle humility hides him from the attention of most but his inner strength of character is shown by his hiding of Max and his other acts of resistance against the Nazis. While he isn’t childlike in mannerisms or his understanding of the world, he does retain a youthful sense of optimism and an unwillingness to compromise his principles.
Rudy is Liesel's sidekick. He starts off in the novel as a 10 year-old boy and dies at the age of 14. Rudy wants to be a star runner, like Jessie Owens, a black American man who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games, which were held in Munich, Germany. Needless to say, Hitler was not pleased because Jessie Owens was trampling on his theories of white supremacy. Physically, he is the picture of the Nazi ideal. Mentally, he is the opposite.
Max is 22 years old when he enters the story as "the struggler" but he almost seems like an old man because he is so beaten down by the need to hide and survive. The kindness of the Hubermanns and Liesel, helps Max realize he must fight in whatever ways he can. Since he's now trapped in the basement, most of these battles must take place in his vivid imagination. He writes and also fights Hitler in his nightmares. For Max, simply surviving is an act of resistance against Hitler. His biggest issue is a sense of guilt for leaving his family behind and putting those who hide him in danger.
Some of the characters below only appear or speak once but have significant lines within the scene. People who take these roles are expected to also be part of the ensemble when it is appropriate. The ensemble will take on various roles such as members of Hitler Youth, soldiers in WWII as well as children in Liesel and Rudy’s friendship groups.
These characters can be female or male. They are essentially the alter egos of the character of Death and support the narration of the play. The idea that Death is ever-present and everywhere all at once will be communicated by the way in which this group interacts with the audience. They have a lot of individual lines and a few shared ones, mostly at the beginning and end of each Act.
Ilsa Herman becomes a very important figure in Liesel's life. She starts the play as a mysterious figure, the wife of the mayor who rarely speaks and spends most of her days dressed in Nazi bathrobes and matching slippers. Ilsa is in mourning for the son she lost some twenty-odd years earlier in an accident. When Liesel starts climbing through the mayor’s library window and stealing books, Ilsa finally has a reason to reach out to another human. Ilse adopts Liesel when the Hubermanns are killed.
Alex is Rudy's father. He's a tailor with a tailor shop. His political beliefs are grounded in economics. This means he can see the inequalities of what is happening but is more focused on what is best for his own family. When Nazi policy does threaten his family he realizes that nobody can really win by supporting the party.
At the beginning of the novel, Frau Holtzapfel is Rosa Hubermann's enemy and shares her disagreeable nature. Her two sons are soldiers and their deaths, one in war and one as a suicide, bring the effects of war to Himmel street. Her mental state deteriorates as the play progresses.
Hans Junior Hubermann
Hans Junior is the son of Hans and Rosa. He's a dedicated member of the Nazi Party. His disgust with his father's lack of allegiance to the party causes him to stop talking to him. According to Death, Hans Junior dies fighting in Stalingrad. He appears in once scene where he fights with his father. The person taking on this role will also need to commit to ensemble rehearsals.
These characters all have a few lines. People who take on these roles will also be part of the ensemble. People may be given more than one of these roles.
Paula is Liesel’s mother and only appears at the beginning of the play. She is frail and desperate enough to give her children up to foster care. She and her presumably dead husband were Communists so this is the other reason she is giving her children up: the Nazi party saw Communists as enemies and treated them in the same way they treated Jewish people.
Officiates over the burial of Liesel’s brother at the start of the play.
Comes to take Rudy to a special school for building an elite German race
Leader Rudy’s Hitler Youth Troop. Dislikes Tommy and Rudy.
People in this group form the main part of the ensemble but for a moment or two throughout the play will also represent these non-speaking characters. People who have small speaking parts will most probably be doublecast and take on these roles as well. Some roles may have a line or two added as we add improvised reactions to the scenes.
Liesel’s brother who dies in the opening scene of the play. He returns in her nightmares for years.