Playwright Leah Napolin, Who Penned Broadway’s Yentl, Dies at 83

Obituaries   Playwright Leah Napolin, Who Penned Broadway’s Yentl, Dies at 83
Ms. Napolin's play bowed on Broadway in 1975, earning Tovah Feldshuh a Tony nomination.
Leah Napolin
Leah Napolin Dmitry Troyanozsky

Leah Napolin, who wrote the 1975 Broadway adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” has died at the age of 83. Her death, following complications with breast cancer, was confirmed to the New York Times by her friend Eleanor Pam.

Tovah Feldshuh in <i>Yentl</i>
Tovah Feldshuh in Yentl

Ms. Napolin’s Yentl, about a young Jewish woman who disguises herself as a man in order to study the Talmud, premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1974 before bowing at Broadway’s Eugene O’Neil Theatre the following year, running for over 200 performances. The production earned Tovah Feldshuh a Tony nomination for her performance in the title role.

Though the production became a representation of the feminist movement of the 1970s, Yentl did not arrive on Broadway without conflict. Singer fought for equal billing as a playwright despite Ms. Napolin being the sole contributor to the script. Additionally, a legal battle erupted between the production and Barbra Streisand, who held the rights to the story (her movie musical adaptation followed in 1983).

Born in Brooklyn in April 1935, Ms. Napolin went on to study at Alfred University, where she met Chelsea Theater Center founder Robert Kalfin, who became a friend and collaborator—and went on to conceive, direct, and produce Yentl.

Following Yentl, Ms. Napolin went on to write the play The Dogs of Pripyat, Split at the Root: A Novel In Three Acts, and the forthcoming memoir War Baby 1935–1950.

Ms. Napolin is survived by her wife Barbara L. Murphy, her daughters Margo Katz and Jessica Starke, her sister Dale Bratter, and three grandchildren. She married Bertram Katz in 1958; they divorced in 2000.