Thursday, June 2, 2016

YENTL • New Jewish Theatre

This is not your aba’s Yentl. Probably most closely associated with the 1983 vanity project movie musical -- directed, co-written, co-produced, and starring Barbra Streisand, this version is not that. This adaptation, like the film, is based on Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s 1975 play, but supplemented with original songs by singer-songwriter, Jill Sobule (“I Kissed a Girl”). The result is a modernized rendering that complements the original story with contemporary hues.

Yentl (Shanara Gabrielle) feels choked by her restrictive shtetl in late 1800’s Poland. To the dismay of her father (Terry Meddows), Yentl values learning and the study of the Talmud over “girl things” like cooking and working on finding a husband, but intellectual pursuits of religious texts were forbidden for women. Yentl wasn’t even allowed to say Kaddish for her father’s funeral, not that that stopped her. Gabrielle plays the title character with full range, delivering the more heartfelt of Sobule’s songs with honest appeal. To quench her thirst for knowledge, Yentl dresses as a man and calls herself Anshel to attend a Yeshiva in Bechev. She quickly becomes friends with Avigdor (Andrew Michael Neiman), a bright fellow student who’s been recently dumped by his ex-fiancee, the town’s local beauty, Hadass (Taylor Steward). Yentl finds herself attracted to both. The “platonic-plus” attraction between Yentl and Avigdor is palpable, but never really addressed, and Neiman relays his character’s love for his friend with a subtle thread of conflict that plays wonderfully. The attraction Hadass feels for Yentl is softly delivered in Steward’s performance while she anxiously watches Yentl eat, or enjoys deeper conversations that are usually off-limits, never realizing at the time that she's disguised as a man.

(Yentl) Shanara Gabrielle and (Avigdor) Andrew Michael Neiman.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Sobule’s score includes incidental klezmer music that adds a nice touch, humorously contemporary songs (I Hate Girl Things) that tug the story into more modern times, and a “My Sister, My Bride” theme that makes a pleasant reprise. Other numbers are light and less memorable, but are executed with zest by the cast of eleven. The play is bolstered by its supporting members -- Peggy Billo as the uncompromising mother of Hadass, Frumka, Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Pesha, Avigdor’s commerce-savvy wife, along with Amy Loui, Will Bonfiglio, Brendan Ochs, Luke Steingruby and Jack Zanger -- all in multiple roles, elevating the play with solid performances. Scenic designers Peter and Margery Spack provide a lovely set of stucco, slanted rooftops and a countryside backdrop, with a comfy atmosphere courtesy of Seth Jackson’s lights and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes. The musicians, perched overhead in a corner of the house, execute the score agreeably under the direction of Charlie Mueller.

Hadass (Taylor Steward) and Yentl (Shanara Gabrielle).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Closing out The New Jewish Theatre’s 19th season, this play with music is a well executed examination of whom you love and why you love, tucked within an old story. Only a couple more opportunities to check it out.


Written by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer 
Music/lyrics by Jill Sobule
Directed by Edward Coffield
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through June 5 | tickets: $39.50 - $43.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday the 15th at 2pm & 7:30pm

Peggy Billo, Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Amy Loui
and Taylor Steward.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Yentl: Shanara Gabrielle*
Avigdor: Andrew Michael Neiman*
Reb Todrus, Alter Vishgower (and others): Terry Meddows*
Hadass (and others): Taylor Steward
Frumka (and others): Peggy Billo*
Pesha (and others): Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Rivkeh, Yancha (and others): Amy Loui*
Sheftel (and others): Will Bonfiglio
Nata, Shmuel (and others): Brendan Ochs
Rabbi (and others): Luke Steingruby
Zelig (and others): Jack Zanger

 Back row -Will Bonfigio, Terry Meddows, Brendan Ochs,
Luke Steingruby, Amy Loui: front – Jennifer Theby-Quinn,
Taylor Steward, Jack Zanger, Peggy Billo.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Music Director: Charlie Mueller
Stage Manager: Mary Jane Probst*
Choreographer: Ellen Isom
Scenic Design and Art: Peter and Margery Spack
Lighting Designer: Seth Jackson
Costume Designer: Michele Friedman Siler
Properties Design: Margery Spack
Sound Design: Amanda Werre
Master Electrician: Nathan Schroeder
Board Operators: Jason Boes and Justin Smith
Assistant Stage Manager: Brendan Woods
Assistant Director: Gio Bukunawa
Wardrobe: Katie Donovan and Ricki Pettinato
Wig Designer: Cristy Sifford

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Guitar: Aaron Doerr
Bass: Adam Anello
Clarinet: Dana Hotle

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