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

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Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule is probably best known for her 1995 hit single, "I Kissed a Girl." These days, she's taking on a new musical project: the gender-bending play by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yentl.

Barbra Streisand turned Singer's play into her 1984 hit movie musical of the same name. Although Sobule's version features music, it's a little more Singer and a little less Streisand.

"She changed the ending and made it kind of Funny Girl coming to America. ... We keep to the word," Sobule tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

Sobule composed original songs for the new staging of the play, which is running through through April 26 at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla. Unlike Streisand's version, which could be seen as a feminist film, this new version of Yentl is more about a transgender woman's coming-of-age.

"You know, if you read the book, and there was no word for it back then, but I think Yentl was transgender," Sobule says. "I mean, it's several times in the book where the father says to her, 'You have the soul of a man and the body of a woman.'"

Singer was critical of the singing in the film when Streisand's film was released in 1984. In this staging, none of the characters, including Yentl, sings onstage. Sobule's songs are heard through a kind of Greek chorus that offer a commentary to the play and the characters' feelings.

As a result, Sobule says, she feels Singer would like the music in Yentl this time around.

"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," she says. "I think he would really like it because it doesn't feel intrusive."

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

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