A Gentle “Yentl”Brings New Jewish Theatre To A Close For The Season

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Shanara Gabrielle as Yentl/Anchel and Andrew Michael Neiman as Avigdor in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Yentl.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

A boisterous cast leads the way as “Yentl” closes out the 19th season at New Jewish Theatre. We must be gentle with this “Yentl,” however as it is still a work in progress. Jill Sobule, who wrote the music, came to town to work with the cast and evidently worked a few new numbers into this production and maybe threw a few out. For the most part, the score is a pleasant one but probably still needs a bit of work. The ballads are most successful including the haunting “Tomorrow Is Breaking My Heart” and the closing number, “I Am Not Alone.”

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Taylor Steward as Hadass and Shanara Gabrielle as Yentl in “Yentl” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

The cast is a standout as Shanara Gabrielle leads the way as Yentl and, when she takes on the persona of a man to study the Talmud, Anchel. She brings a genuine enthusiasm to the part and you really believe that this is what she wants more than anything else the world can offer her. As her comrade and soon-t0-be “boyfriend,” Avigdor, Andrew Michael Neiman brings a strong, manly presence to his role. When Avigdor is stymied in his pursuit of Hadass, played with a sweet innocence by Taylor Steward, he convinces Anchel to propose- a more suitable marriage according to her parents.

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Women of the town gather to assist Hadass in her wedding plans during “Yentl” at The New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Jennifer Theby-Quinn is delightful as the grumpy shopkeeper who finds Avigdor completely unacceptable as a clerk or a husband. Terry Meddows tackles several roles with vigor and panache including Yentl’s father, father to Hadass and others. Amy Loui also shines in multiple roles as does Peggy Billo. A strong male chorus make up the rest of the cast, mainly as townspeople. They include Will Bonfiglio, Luke Steingruby, Brendan Ochs and Jack Zanger. The entire cast works hard and, despite a few near misses on the small stage opening night, they pulled off great moments like the wedding sequence making a crowded situation look easy and effortless.

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A musical moment during “Yentl” as presented at the New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Super director Edward Coffield has pulled the show together with an eye to detail and keeping excitement in a play that could easily drag on with the only conflict being Yentl’s attempt to keep her identity a secret. The book is by Leah Napolin with assistance from the original short story author, Isaac Bashevis Singer. He, by the way, was not fond of the Barbra Streisand treatment of his material in her film version. I also noticed one moment that was ripe for a comic song treatment when two tailors attempted to fit Yentl for her/his wedding garb and she kept fending them off lest they discover her shortcomings.

Charlie Mueller handled the small band with style and the remarkable choreography is handled by Ellen Isom. Peter and Margery Spack designed the clever and functional set that incorporated several houses, the brief scene in the shop and other sites encompassing several towns around 1800’s Poland. Seth Jackson’s lighting design is just right and Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes are perfect.

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Shanara Gabrielle in the title role of “Yentl” at the New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

“Yentl” still needs some work but it is a wonderful evening of theatre as it appears right now on the stage at New Jewish Theatre. It even pays homage to its bigger brother, “Fiddler On The Roof,” when you see the town of Anatevka highlighted on a signpost during one of the opening scenes. It plays through June 5th at the New Jewish Theatre. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information on “Yentl” or their exciting 20th season beginning in October.

 

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