|Written by||Leah Napolin
Isaac Bashevis Singer
|Date premiered||October 23, 1975|
|Place premiered||Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City, New York|
|Subject||Gender roles, religion|
Based on Singer's short story "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," it centers on a young girl who defies tradition by discussing and debating Jewish law and theology with her rabbi father. When he dies, she cuts her hair, dresses as a man, and sets out to find a yeshiva where she can continue to study Talmud and live secretly as a male named Anshel. When her study partner Avigdor discovers the truth, Yentl's assertions that she is "neither one sex nor the other" and has "the soul of a man in the body of a woman" suggest the character is undergoing a gender identity crisis, especially when she opts to remain living as Anshel for the rest of her life.
After eleven previews, the Broadway production, directed by Robert Kalfin, opened on October 23, 1975 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, where it ran for 223 performances. The cast included Tovah Feldshuh, John Shea, and Lynn Ann Leveridge.
As early as 1968, Barbra Streisand had expressed interest in a film adaptation of Singer's short story. Using the Napolin/Singer play as her source material, she wrote a detailed forty-two page treatment, the first to conceive of the movie version as a musical. The resulting 1983 production veered dramatically from the original short story and play by allowing Yentl to reveal her true feelings for Avigdor and having her return to her female self and sail for the United States at the end.
The film received a scathing review from Singer, who was particularly taken aback by Streisand's monopolization of the production to its detriment, saying: "When an actor is also the producer and the director and the writer he would have to be exceedingly wise to curb his appetites. I must say that Miss Streisand was exceedingly kind to herself. The result is that Miss Streisand is always present, while poor Yentl is absent." The film, however, was well received by others, including reviewers at Time, Variety and Newsweek. Box office receipts were also healthy, both domestically and internationally, and the film was ranked 19th in the year's moneymakers. At awards time, Streisand was famously snubbed at the Oscars, but the film itself received 5 nods, winning for Best Original Music Score. Yentl won two Golden Globe Awards for Best Director and Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy).
- Napoleon, Davi. Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater. Includes a chapter on Yentl, the story, the play, and the movie. The dramatic chapter goes into detail about several controversies between strong individuals—Isaac B Singer and Kalfin, Kalfin and Feldshuh, Singer and Streisand, and Kalfin and Streisand. It also includes descriptions of the play and movie. Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0-8138-1713-7, 1991.