Not Your Bubbe's Yentl: Jill Sobule's Klezmer/Rock Songs Enliven FL Revival of Classic

News   Not Your Bubbe's Yentl: Jill Sobule's Klezmer/Rock Songs Enliven FL Revival of Classic Yentl, the play about a Polish-Jewish girl who dresses like a boy in order to study holy teachings in a Yeshiva, gets an extra jolt of sexuality and energy with the addition of songs by pop writer Jill Sobule, in a new production that opens Jan. 20 in Florida.

Hillary Clemens
Hillary Clemens Photo by Scott Braun

Don't expect Asolo Repertory Theatre's Sarasota staging of the play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer to match the 1983 movie-musical treatment of the source story. That Barbra Streisand vehicle had a score by Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Michel Legrand. (The film is based on the Singer story, "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy," not the 1975 stage play.)

Stage director Gordon Greenberg's new revival of Napolin and Singer's play that was seen on Broadway (earning Tovah Feldshuh a Best Actress Tony nomination) has nudity, mature themes — and new music and lyrics by "I Kissed a Girl" singer-songwriter Sobule. It began previews Jan. 18 and continues to April 21.

"I am adapting it with [Jill], but using the text of the original play," Greenberg told Playbill in late 2011, in between rehearsals for a workshop of the show. "This is a Brechtian or Shakespearean take on it — where music helps excavate the raw sexuality and passionate emotion throughout the show. It's been a thrilling few days already, fusing this amazing play about gender and hormonal rushes with Jill's Klezmer-folk-rock score."

Greenberg, who recently helped reinvent the musical Working in regional stagings, added, "We're not changing the text — just putting music to the play, in between scenes. [The] original play is amazingly sexual and resonant — both politically and socially. Women are still banned from education in many countries — and we are seeing a huge breakdown in gender roles and the laws of attraction. Introducing a live band and a rock score underlines the ageless ideas of young love and sexual questioning…."

Greenberg told Playbill.com on Jan. 19, "We've learned so much about the show in the last month of rehearsal. The onstage band — and Jill's cheeky sexy klezmer rock score — brings a rush of excitement and humor to the show... It's very warm and engaging — and the story feels epic. It falls somewhere on the spectrum between Fiddler, Spring Awakening and Twelfth Night. Audience response is wildly enthusiastic." Here's how Asolo characterizes Yentl: "In 19th-century Eastern Europe, options for young women are few, and education is forbidden. But Yentl has been able to secretly pursue her studies, which are her life's passion, under the tutelage of her father. After he dies, her only hope of achieving her dreams is to disguise herself as a boy. When she falls in love, Yentl must decide whether or not to reveal the truth."

Gordon Greenberg

For the record, this new production draws from Isaac Bashevis Singer's original story "Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy," Orthodox Judaism traditions and Singer and Napolin's script.

New York singer-songwriter Sobule has eight albums and two hit singles, "Supermodel" and the original "I Kissed A Girl," to her credit.

The cast includes Hillary Clemens as Yentl/Anshel, Andrew Carter as Avigdor (the Mandy Patinkin role in the film), Gisela Chipe as Hadass (the Amy Irving role in the film), Howard Millman (former artistic director at Asolo) as Reb Todrus/Reb Alter, Doug Jones (company member at Asolo), Carolyn Michel (company member at Asolo) as Rivka/Frumka, Jason Bradley (company member at Asolo) and Florida graduate acting students Gretchen Porro, Ashley Scallon, Megan Delay, Summer Dawn Wallace, Ben Boucvault, Jake Staley, Jon-Michael Miller, Geoff Knox, Luke Bartholomew and Tony Stopperan.

The creative team includes Josh Rhodes (choreographer), Brian Bembridge (scenic design), Mattie Ullrich (costumes), Paul Miller (lights), Patricia Delorey (voice & dialect coach), Michelle Hart (resident hair & makeup design), Lauryn E. Sasso (resident dramaturg) Kelly A. Borgia (stage manager), Nancy Seibert (music coordinator).

The klezmer/folk rock band features accordionist Nancy Seibert, local musicians Carolann Evans and Joe Cerrito and the third year FSU/Asolo MFA students.

Barbra Streisand wrote, directed and starred in her own feature film version of the 19th-century-set tale. In it, songs (including "Papa, Can You Hear Me?") were used for soundtrack purposes to illustrate emotions and thoughts in the characters' minds and hearts.

Isaac Bashevis Singer received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1978.

Visit asolorep.org for more information.

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