Ira Deutchman to Adapt Film Classic Hestern Street into Musical

June 2, 2016

Film department professor Ira Deutchman will begin adapting the classic film Hester Street into a musical. The 1975 independent feature, originally adapted from the novel Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto by Abraham Cahan, was written and directed by Joan Micklin Silver. It originally grossed $6 million at the box office, making it a notably successful independent film in its time.

Hester Street tells the story of Yankel, a Russian Jewish immigrant who assimilates easily into life on the 1890s Lower East Side, but finds disappointment when his family eventually joins him in America and fails to do the same. The majority of the film is performed in Yiddish with English subtitles. In 2011 the Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, considering it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Carol Kane, who starred as Yankel’s wife Gitl, earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the role.

Deutchman is best known as a film producer, but has recently been taking on projects in theatre. He first entered the film business the same year Hester Street made its theatrical debut. He recalls seeing “lines of people around the block to get into this movie” as he walked to and from his office when he worked for Don Rugoff of Cinema 5. While working for Rugoff, he arranged for the non-theatrical release of Hester Street, placing the movie on college campuses and in Jewish groups across the country.

Deutchman, speaking to Indiewire, says the film is “historically significant simply because I can’t think of another example of a woman writer-director in the '70s actually making a film that had the impact that Hester Street did.” Deutchman was brought onto the development stage adaptation by Micklin, who had initially been approached by Michael Rabinowitz.

The producing team is currently looking for a playwright to write the adaption for the stage.