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Jill Sobule, the ‘Supermodel’ singer, lends her feminism and songs to New Jewish Theatre’s ‘Yentl’

Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Jill Sobule, the singer-songwriter behind the 1995 hit "Supermodel," is lending her talents to the New Jewish Theatre's production of "Yentl."

If you don’t know the name Jill Sobule, you certainly know her voice: she sang "Supermodel," the most famous track from the 1995 classic film “Clueless.” Now, Sobule is lending her songwriting chops to New Jewish Theatre’s production of “Yentl,” which opens this week.

Sobule is based in Los Angeles. Adapting music for “Yentl” has been a long-time side project. Many people know the 1983 movie-musical adaptation of Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer’s play about a girl who defies Jewish tradition to study the Talmud, yet the play itself is typically not set to music.

Sobule has worked on several versions of musical accompaniment over the years and, this time, it is done as a street band that’s telling the story outside of the play, in a klezmer/rock/folk style. The play now incorporates an instrumental score and 10 songs.

The original “I Kissed a Girl” singer has kept returning to the play’s subject matter because of a personal connection to the main character.

"I would have a Batman utility belt. I just wanted to be an international spy and superhero. Yeah, I wasn't into dolls."

“I was at my mother’s house last month, looking at all these old Polaroids, and my favorite outfit [when I was a kid], I would wear black leotards and a black turtleneck,” Sobule said. “I would have a Batman utility belt. I just wanted to be an international spy and superhero. Yeah, I wasn’t into dolls.”

Singing, in fact, was a back-up plan.

“Even when I first started playing music, I didn’t want to be a singer-songwriter,” she said. “I wanted to play electric. I wanted to be a Hendrix. In a way I related to Yentl because it wasn’t cool, it wasn’t feminine. You pick up a guitar and become Joan Baez. I love Joan Baez, but I’m just saying. I think it has changed, maybe not as much as you think, so that’s how I relate to Yentl … because I wanted to do boy things.”

For the New Jewish Theatre Production, Sobule has ensured the musicians accompanying the play (including St. Louis on the Air’s own production assistant/guitarist Aaron Doerr) have room to make the music their own.

“When you have great musicians, rather than writing down every single note they are going to play, you give a little leeway,” Sobule said. “It is not being a traditional musical theater person, I’m someone who is used to jamming with people. When you jam with people who are good, that makes you look better.”

Listen to Sobule reflect on her songwriting process, “Supermodel,” the difference between her own “I Kissed a Girl” and Katy Perry’s song, and convincing her mom that her music career was worth dropping out of school for:

Related Event

What: New Jewish Theatre Presents "Yentl"
When: May 12 - June 5, 2016
Where: Wool Studio Theatre in the Arts and Education Building at the Jewish Community Center Staenberg Family Complex
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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