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 earlier stage play.)
Stage director Gordon Greenberg's Jan. 20-April 21 revival of the 1975 play that was seen on Broadway (earning Tovah Feldshuh a Best Actress Tony nomination) will have music and lyrics by "I Kissed a Girl" pop songwriter Jill Sobule.
"I am adapting it with [Jill], but using the text of the original play," Greenberg said on Nov. 4, in between rehearsals for a current 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. It's going to be pretty exciting."
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 said that writer Napolin is aware of the new take. "I just met Leah last week at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre conference, where we were both working on new musicals, and I explained what we were going after with this production — adding the Klezmer rock band — and she seemed excited to come see us later in rehearsals in January," the director said. The cast for the coming production 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), Doug Jones (company member at Asolo), Carolyn Michel (company member at Asolo), 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).
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.
Visit asolorep.org for more information.