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New Staging Of 'Yentl' Tells A Transgender Story
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New Staging Of 'Yentl' Tells A Transgender Story


It's time now for music, and this is a story of how the troubadour Jill Sobule may be picking a fight with Barbra Streisand. But before we get to that, Jill Sobule is probably best known for her 1995 hit single, "I Kissed a Girl."


JILL SOBULE: (Singing) So we laughed and compared notes. We had a drink, we had a smoke, she took off her overcoat. I kissed a girl.

RAZ: These days, Jill Sobule is sticking with that theme just a little, but her focus is on the gender-bending play by Isaac Bashevis Singer, "Yentl."


BARBRA STREISAND: (As Yentl) (Singing) Papa, can you hear me? Papa, can you see me?

RAZ: OK. If this is the "Yentl" you're thinking of, and I admit I was, it is nothing like the short story and play written by I.B. Singer.[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: I.B. Singer wrote the short story the play was based on. Playwright Leah Napolin co-wrote the play with Singer.]

Barbra Streisand turned it into a musical, much to Singer's dismay. Jill Sobule was asked by a theater in Sarasota, Florida to compose brand new music for a revival of the original play.

It had its debut a few weeks ago, and if you are expecting Yentl to sing, well, Sobule's version is a little more Singer and a little less Barbra.

SOBULE: What got me into reading the short story, the I.B. Singer, was I read an interview with him right after the movie in The New York Times.

RAZ: And it's devastating.

SOBULE: It's hysterically mean.

RAZ: So in fact, I have it right in front of me. He's asked: Have you seen the movie "Yentl"? He says: Yes, I have seen it. Did you like it? I am sorry to say I did not. He goes on to, really, to attack - scathingly attack Barbra Streisand.

SOBULE: And I think he died not too long after.


RAZ: So would you say that this version is more faithful to I.B. Singer's short story and then subsequent play, or is this closer to Barbra Streisand's?

SOBULE: Oh, no, no, no. You know, she changed the ending and made it kind of "Funny Girl" coming to America.

RAZ: She doesn't go to America in this version.

SOBULE: She does not go to America. You know, we keep to the word. And, you know, if you read the book - and there was no word for it back then, but I think Yentl was transgender. I mean, it's several times in the book where she says - or he - the father says to her, you have the soul of a man in a body of a woman.

RAZ: Hmm. In the film, it was sort of seen as a statement of feminism, right?

SOBULE: As a statement of feminism. And that's one of my favorite scenes in the movie, when she turns into Anshel, the boy, and there's this soft focus and you see Barbra and she's in the men's clothing but it kind of focuses on her perfectly manicured Beverly Hill nails.


SOBULE: That doesn't happen here.

RAZ: We should, I guess, make it clear that in this play, Yentl never sings. I mean, all the music in the play is sort of like a Greek chorus, right?

SOBULE: Right.

RAZ: Or Jewish chorus.

SOBULE: It's a Greek Jewish - yes, Jewish chorus.

RAZ: Right. At one point, the singers sing a song called "Tomorrow Is Breaking My Heart," and it sounds like a love song.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SINGER: (Singing) After the fog the music begins. We dance to our luck. We are already sinners. We never think the sun will rise. We just keep burning through the night. Tomorrow...

RAZ: What is this one about?

SOBULE: See, this is towards the end when the jig is up, when Yentl, she knows she's going to be exposed, and she feels that it's time to move on. She can't live this lie anymore. So it's really kind of the goodbye song.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SINGER: (Singing) Everything is going to be the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SINGER: (Singing) Nothing that we love will ever change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SINGER: (Singing) Will never change. Tomorrow is breaking, tomorrow is breaking, tomorrow is breaking my heart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE SINGER: (Singing) Will never change. Tomorrow is breaking, tomorrow is breaking, tomorrow is breaking my heart.

RAZ: I'm speaking with singer/songwriter Jill Sobule. She's recently composed original music for a new production of "Yentl," which is now being performed in Sarasota, Florida. Jill, there's a moment at the end of the play, shortly after Yentl's father dies, and we hear the song "Last Candle."

SOBULE: Yes, the Papa-can-you-hear-me moment.

RAZ: That's the Papa-can-you-hear-me moment.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SINGER: (Singing) I watch you rise. I watch you rise and pray that you're still watching and you can hear. So give me answers. Give me answers, not just tears. Where do I go now? What should I be? Nothing is written for someone like me. Is the last candle for you and me?

SOBULE: When they light that candle, the last candle, it's the wax of the candle as the body and the flame is the smoke. And as soon as it goes out, the body leaves this world. So I used that imagery, and I also brought in her feeling that she had no choice but to live her life as a boy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SINGER: (Singing) As you burn down, please forgive me or speak up now. Where do I go now? What should I be? Nothing is written for someone like me. Is the last candle, is the last candle, is the last candle for you and me?

RAZ: In that infamous interview that I.B. Singer did with The New York Times in 1984, he says, music and singing are not my fields. So he never envisioned music in the stage adaptation of his story "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy." What do you think he would've made of this one?

SOBULE: You know what? I think he would approve of my music. I really do, because it keeps the spirit of the play, and it has a sense of humor. I think he actually would like it because it doesn't feel intrusive.

RAZ: What about Barbra?

SOBULE: You know, I don't know. I would love to know what she would think. I'm not sure she'd like it. I hope she would.

RAZ: That's singer/songwriter Jill Sobule. She's composed new music for the Asolo Repertory Theater Company's staging of "Yentl" in Sarasota, Florida. The play runs through April 26th. Jill Sobule, thank you so much for being here.

SOBULE: Thank you so much, Guy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SINGER: (Singing) Jonathan and David, in the Book of Samuel. They were really close, they were best friends.

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