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My friend asked me to go along with her to see Yentl this evening at the Asolo Rep and I was thrilled. I don't often to the theater, although I love it. Like everyone else, I'm watching my budget. Honestly, Yentl might not have been my first choice because I saw the movie with Barbra Streisand when I was younger and was satisfied. I thought I knew Yentl? I had another thing coming.
This production did not use the music from the film. Remember "Papa can you hear me??" Well that's about all I remember! Anyway, when we entered the lobby I heard Klezmer music playing. I love that Yiddish, Jewish music and was looking forward to the music in the show. I never would have guessed what was coming.
This stage production felt so real, so immediate. The set was very simple, but transformed so beautifully scene to scene. I think this helped us keep our focus on the actors themselves. Hillary Clemens, who portrayed Yentl/Anshl, really did look like a teen-aged boy - petite, thin, and yes, flat-chested - but so intense and passionate. Like in Shakespeare or a Greek chorus, she addressed the audience at the beginning and I felt immediately drawn into her dilemma of wanting to have the freedom to study and follow her own dreams in a world where women were forbidden to do so.
Even if you saw the movie, on the stage this feels like an entirely different story. I cried repeatedly and gasped out loud at several points. There was some nudity, both men and women, but it seemed so natural and real, so very tastefully woven into the texture of the story, In fact, I really felt poor Yentl/Anshl's embarrassment when the boys of her Yeshiva were skinny dipping and she had to sit to the side. I think it might have felt odd if they hadn't been nude.
Oh, the music! At first I was disappointed that the music wasn't all klezmer, but Jill Sobule was very imaginative in giving the songs a real pop/contemporary twist. I heard some blues and Bluegrass as well. More importantly, the music itself made me both laugh and cry - "What Have I Done?" has some comic surprises and Last Candle, well, I would cry every time.
I'd go to see this play again. But maybe I will see if I can slip into Fallen Angels next.