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    Singers Duet

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Her recent #1 album Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway and Barbra: The Music…The Mem’ries…The Magic! concert tour (which covered nine cities in late summer and will extend to four more dates starting next weekend) have reaffirmed entertainment multihyphenate Barbra Streisand’s enduring preeminence as a singer. The soaring and unmistakable clarion voice opened doors to other areas of revealed talents, as actress, director/producer/screenwriter of movies, author, activist, philanthropist. She easily commands solo spotlights, but often opts to share center stage when the passion for meaningful material is aroused. And so it was when Streisand the singer came across a story by a writer named Singer, as in Isaac Bashevis Singer, and the result opened in theatres 33 years ago today. Directed, produced and co-written by – and starring – Streisand, Yentl (1983) – cockeyed, earnest, playful and transformative all at once – found appreciative audiences and critical reaction that ranged from deep admiration to stymied head-scratching, but can genuinely be looked back upon as what film historian David Thomson considered “one of the great American debuts, an authentic musical film such as no one dreams of now, with gorgeous songs that exactly dramatize a rich, clever story.” At the time, Singer went on record disliking the way the film adapted his story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, about a provincial Jewish girl in early 20th-century Poland, secretly schooled in the Talmud by her widower father contrary to custom, who disguises herself as a man to defy gender-based restrictions and pursue religious studies. He felt the songs and Streisand’s multiple role-playing got in the way of his simple story but in hindsight, the $40-million box-office hit no doubt led to an uptick in book sales and a renewed spotlight on Singer’s own straight-play 1975 stage adaptation (with Leah Napolin). A case might be made that the singer named Streisand became more consumed in the plight and destiny of the Singer-created character more deeply than its originator. Her missionary zeal to make this production one for the ages drove Streisand to enlist fellow Academy Award® winners Michel Legrand (music) and Alan and Marilyn Bergman (lyrics) to fashion a song score that would embrace family feeling, aspirational yearning, intellectual bemusement, sexual longing and philosophical inquiry – and make this slender tale rooted in Jewish traditions stunningly universal. The film won Golden Globes® as Best Picture/Musical or Comedy and Best Director for Streisand along with an Oscar to Legrand and the Bergmans as Best Original Song or Adaptation Score, signaling a valedictory breakthrough. Streisand’s partners – actors Mandy Patinkin, Amy Irving, Nehemiah Persoff and Steven Hill, co-scripter Jack Rosenthal, cinematographer David Watkin, production designer Roy Walker, editor Terry Rawlings, costume designer Judy Moorcroft, art director Leslie Tomkins and set decorator Tessa Davies – were also caught up in Streisand’s fervor to inject this project shot in Prague, the Czech republic, Liverpool and New York with honest emotions and visual flair. Musical movies that followed Yentl mixed energy and passion with varying results; next month’s La La Land will be the newest to test whether or not a stylish concoction of dreamers and music will make an equal or deeper impression. But decades ago, when one singer intersected with another on the singular achievement called Yentl, now available on a wondrously comprehensive, extras-loaded Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, it proved to be one of those moments in which moviemaking rules were rewritten.