Palestine National Orchestra debuts

The Palestine National Orchestra performed for the first time in the Palestinian Authority and in Israel.

The orchestra made its debut in Ramallah, and then performed in eastern Jerusalem over the weekend and in Haifa on Sunday night.

“Today an orchestra, tomorrow a state,” Suhail Khoury, director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, wrote in the program, according to the French news agency AFP.

Said, a Palestinian American and an advocate for the Palestinian cause, was a professor at Columbia University. He died in 2003.

“Today we are witnessing the birth of the Palestine National Orchestra at a time when the Palestinian struggle for independence is passing through one of its most critical and difficult moments,” Khoury also wrote. “We musicians truly believe that a state is not only about buildings and roads, but most importantly it is about its people, their values, their arts and their cumulative cultural identity.”

Each concert began with the Palestinian national anthem, AFP reported.

Women plot revenge against a sexist ’70s boss in ‘9 to 5: The Musical’ (what a way to make a livin’)

It’s 8:59 a.m. You are half asleep. Traffic couldn’t have been worse. You spilled coffee on your shirt racing for the elevator. You get to your desk only to hear your “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss shouting at you that the stapler is broken, you need to pick up a new one and some coffee, too — with sweetener — if it wouldn’t be too much of a bother.

For millions of female (and male) office workers, such a scenario, captured vividly in the 1980 movie “9 to 5” — starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton — is hardly fiction.

Although nearly 30 years have passed since the film’s release, a time when the term “sexual harassment” had barely entered the lexicon, the hassles and harassment of the “9 to 5” life are still all too real.

At least that’s the idea behind the new musical adaptation of the film, which will have its world premiere Sept. 20 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, before moving on to Broadway.

The new production stars Emmy Award-winning actress Allison Janney (best known as the press secretary in “West Wing”), “Wicked” alums Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty as members of the secretarial pool of Consolidated Companies, along with the corrupt Vice President Franklin Hart Jr. (Marc Kudisch).

The story features three women who have had it with obnoxious, chauvinistic bullying from their boss. Office manager Violet Newsted (Janney) not only trained Hart but has constantly been passed over for promotion. Shy recent divorcee Judy Bernly (Block) gets the brunt of Hart’s anger after an incident with a haywire copy machine. And buxom executive secretary Doralee Rhodes (Hilty) has to put up with Hart’s constant sexual advances.

Together, they decide to fight back.

Through a crazy turn of events, luck and smarts, the trio — who are barely acquaintances at the beginning of the show — find a way to expose Hart and turn the department around.

“9 to 5: The Musical” follows in the footsteps of a long line of film-to-stage adaptations, such as “The Producers,” “The Color Purple” and “Hairspray.” Its creative team includes Tony-winning director Joe Mantella (“Wicked”) and Tony-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (“In the Heights”). Music and lyrics are by original “9 to 5” cast member and multi-Grammy winner Parton, who penned all the songs for the musical, and the book of the musical was adapted by the film’s screenwriter, Patricia Resnick.

On a recent morning just before the show went into previews, Resnick, 55, interrupted her own busy day to meet with a reporter. Hardly a 9-to-5er herself, she had just dropped her daughter off for her first day of high school. After having a cup of green tea from the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (“its good for losing weight,” she said), the single mother of three would soon head home to work on a new television pilot, then run errands, pick up her son from middle school at 3:30 p.m. and, after all that, head downtown to the Music Center to watch technical rehearsals for the new musical — which would last until midnight.

But Resnick is clearly enjoying the hectic schedule. She smiled when talking about “how fortunate” she is to work with “the nicest group of people. It’s an instant family.”

She said that although she doesn’t live the life of the typical office worker, her own politically conscious background made her a good fit for writing the feminist-activist message of the very funny film.

“I grew up very liberal, very left wing,” she said. Her father was an attorney and her mother a stay-at-home mom. “Some people play tennis with their family — we protested. Civil rights. The Vietnam War. Everything.”

Her involvement with “9 to 5” began in the late 1970s, when she read an article in trade papers that Fonda wanted to create a film that made a political statement about female office workers.

“I saw in Variety that Jane Fonda wanted to work with both Lily [Tomlin] and Dolly [Parton],” Resnick said. “At that point, I’d been working on Robert Altman’s ‘A Wedding,’ and I was doing a PBS teleplay called, ‘Ladies in Waiting.’ I called my agent and asked, ‘Can you find out if there’s a writer yet?'”

Resnick had some connections: Her first writing job was working on Tomlin’s one-woman show, “Appearing Nitely”; she also wrote a few sketches for Parton on a Cher special.

Fonda read some of Resnick’s work and brought her on board. After some discussion, they decided a politically themed movie would play out best as a comedy and took the idea to 20th Century Fox.

The film ended up grossing more than $103 million in the United States and spawning two TV series. (Ironically, the exterior scenes were shot at the Pacific Financial Center on West Sixth Street in downtown Los Angeles — just six blocks from the Ahmanson.)

Resnick said that the idea of turning the film into a musical was under discussion for a while, but a combination of forces, including funding, timing and assembling a creative team, kept it from coming together sooner.

The break came in 2003, when she met with Showtime Networks Entertainment President Bob Greenblatt about a television project. Resnick said that Greenblatt mentioned he was a huge fan of the film and wanted to mount a musical.

Getting Parton to write the music was essential, since her iconic title song, “9 to 5,” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and country charts in 1981 and has charted as recently as 2004, reaching 78 on American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Songs.” According to Resnick, who said she loved working with Parton, the new role of lyricist fit the actress-singer well.

“Dolly did the most amazing job. She’s an incredible songwriter — who doesn’t get the recognition she deserves,” Resnick said. “She never had done any Broadway. The songs are so good and perfect for each character. They really stay in your head.”

Among the show’s songs is “Backwoods Barbie,” taken from Parton’s album of the same name. In the musical, it becomes a backstory song for Doralee: “I’m just a backwoods Barbie, too much makeup, too much hair. Don’t be fooled by thinkin’ that the goods are not all there. Don’t let these false eyelashes lead you to believe that I’m as shallow as I look, ’cause I run true and deep.”

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a musical, and now I have the chance to not only make Doralee sing, but to bring all of Patricia’s wonderful characters to life on stage through music,” Parton said in the show’s press materials. She was not available for comment for this article.

Once Parton became involved, things began to fall into place.

The creative team decided not to change the setting — 1979, before the days of cell phones, Starbucks and the Internet.

“Bob and I talked about whether we should update it or not,” Resnick said. “There were such strong reasons to keep it in the original time. The whole harassment thing … not that it doesn’t go on now … is not as blatant as it was then.”

Resnick also collaborated with Parton on which parts of the movie should become songs.

“All the fantasies are production numbers,” Resnick said, referring to where each of the female leads daydreams about how they would “kill” Hart if they had the chance. In the film, Violet uses poison, Judy is a bounty hunter and Doralee ropes him like a steer. But the fantasies had to be tweaked, Resnick said, along with other scenes that worked well on screen but not on stage.

“At one rehearsal, something wasn’t working so they restaged, and I had to write some new lines,” she said. “The next day, they restaged again, and the lines were cut.”

Resnick’s other credits include such films as “Maxie” (starring Glenn Close) and “Straight Talk” (starring Parton). She acknowledged that she hasn’t previously had much experience in theater.

Working on “9 to 5: The Musical” was fun, she said, and it has changed the way she views the film version: “Now when I watch the movie, I hear song cues.”

She also said that working on the musical helped save her life, because she’s used it as a motivation to lose some weight. In what she calls “95 by ‘9 to 5,'” she hopes to lose 95 pounds by the show’s opening night. Through a combination of working with a trainer, running stairs at the theater and ordering food through Nutrifit, she said she is now within just 10 pounds of her goal.

In addition, the stage adaptation has given Resnick a chance to enhance the film’s story, including a love interest for Violet and expanding the backgrounds of some of the minor characters from the film.

“It seems that in a musical you would get to know people less — I actually think you get to know them more,” she noted.

Resnick, who grew up in Miami Beach, said her family always spent a lot of time at movies and the theater, and she loved writing from an early age. She describes her parents as “culinary Jews,” who went to temple twice a year.

“The rest of my family was in New York,” she said. “My parents’ friends were all Jewish. We all got together for the holidays, because no one really had family.”

Although her own children haven’t attended Hebrew school in a long time, Resnick said they absolutely identify as Jewish. Her three kids have sat in on rehearsals, she said, and are great fans of the new show. Between now and the planned Broadway opening in March, Resnick will be home in Los Angeles working in television again. Her next project is a computer-animated adaptation of “Olivia,” the Ian Falconer children’s book series about an adventurous pig, which is expected to air on Nickelodeon at the end of this year.

Despite the nearly three decades that have passed since the original film came out, Resnick sees much that relates to today’s workplace in the show’s story.

“Unfortunately, ‘9 to 5’ is very relevant. In the Fortune 500 there are eight female CEOs — and we’re 51 percent of the population,” she noted. “What I would love to happen is in 30 years for someone to say, ‘Lets revive it.’ And for someone else to say, ‘No one will relate to it.'”

“9 to 5: The Musical” opens Sept. 20 and runs at the Ahmanson Theatre through Oct. 19. For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>

Even Maidelehs Don Pasties

Jewish girl stereotypes get tossed — including one you might have heard about them being prudes — when “Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad” makes its West Coast debut this Thursday night at Tangier.

As creator and emcee Susannah Perlman describes it, the variety show features comedy, spoken word, music and burlesque acts that speak to the Jewish condition, performed by women who have appeared on Comedy Central, HBO, MTV and late night television.

Vanessa Hidary presents a spoken-word piece about being a “Jewish Mamita” (a Jewish girl who doesn’t look Jewish at all), and a dreadlocked singer/songwriter Michelle Citrin plays folky, melodic music.

“One of the things in bringing these women together is that they were very unconventional in what one thinks of as a Jewish woman,” Perlman said.

The show is very much about “defying stereotypes and at the same time embracing them,” she added.

Which brings us to the burlesque dancers.

Yes, Perlman affirmed, women will be removing their clothing in an act titled “Hassidic Strip.” Only pasties and men’s “tighty-whities” with blue stars of David will remain.

“When you tell people there are going to be Jewish women taking off their clothes you get a better crowd than Kol Nidre,” Perlman said.

But she also described the show as a celebration of being Jewish, even if it’s “not as kosher.”

“I think there are a lot of secular Jews who are looking for things to connect culturally and they don’t want to do the synagogue or JCC singles mixer. These things are a little played out for this type of crowd,” she said.

The burlesque, she said, is just “tongue-in-cheek fun.”

Rounding out the night’s festivities with some klezmer that rocks will be Golem, the hip Jew’s answer to Eastern European shtetl music.

Because, as Perlman put it, “Even hipsters need community.”

March 3, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. at The Fold at Tangier in Silver Lake. March 4, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. The Don Cribb Theater in Santa Ana.

7 Days in the Arts

Saturday, February 19

Before “all that jazz” there was “Ragtime,” Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ description of America in the early 1900s, as well as the title of their 1998 musical. The Tony Award-winning epic follows three families – one African American, one WASP, one Jewish – living in New York at the turn of the last century, and deals with the class and race issues of the time. It plays at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center through March 6.

8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sat. and Sun.). No matinee Sat., Feb. 19. The Feb. 27, 7 p.m. performance will be interpreted for the hearing impaired. $20-$47. 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach. (562) 856-1999, ext. 4.

Sunday, February 20

Israeli Greek singer Shlomi Saranga has recorded more than 20 albums, performs regularly in Greece and Israel and is now in the midst of his first U.S. tour. Catch his Southern California debut tonight.

8:30 p.m. $50-$75. The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. (818) 879-5016.

Monday, February 21

Steven Jay Fogel came late to painting. The businessman and author only took it up at age 48, but his intensely personal works have been given a showcase at the USC Hillel Jewish Center Gallery. His exhibition, “Relationships: My Friends and Their Stories,” is influenced by World War II and the Holocaust, as well as personal tragedies and experiences. It is on view through March 10.

9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.). Free. 3300 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles. (213) 747-9135, ext. 14.

Tuesday, February 22

“Samson and Delilah” comes to Orange County Performing Arts Center for four nights only, beginning tonight. The biblical tale of a woman’s betrayal and her lover’s subsequent downfall may be dated, but the French opera’s music by Camille Saint-Saëns endures.

7:30 p.m. (Feb. 22, 24 and 26), 2 p.m. (Feb. 27). $35-$185. Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

Wednesday, February 23

No such thing as a free lunch? Perhaps. But today you can find free movies, thanks to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Academy Foundation and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. This evening they are screening “I Used to Be a Filmmaker,” and “Capturing the Friedmans.”

7:30 p.m. James Bridges Theater, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 206-3456.

Thursday, February 24

The world gets a little smaller today, as African musician Habib Koité performs with his band Bamada at the Skirball. Koité’s music has been described as Pan-Malian, a convergence of the varied indigenous musical styles of his country. “I’m curious about all the music in the world, but I make music from Mali,” he said. They play tonight only.

8 p.m. $15-$20. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.

Friday, February 25

Head back to UCLA tonight for more flicks. They’re not free this time. The Otto Preminger series begins with this evening’s double feature, which screens his first hit in Hollywood, “Laura,” followed by, “Fallen Angel.”

7:30 p.m. $5-$8. James Bridges Theater, UCLA, Westwood. (310) 206-3456.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

“Welcome to Heavenly Heights” by Risa Miller (St. Martin’s
Press, $23.95).

Many writers have imagined the Jewish immigrant experience,
setting their novels and short stories on the Lower East Side and places like
that, where newcomers can forge their way to become Americans. Risa Miller’s
debut novel, “Welcome to Heavenly Heights,” is a different version of that
story, with American Jews making new homes in Israel, reversing the exile. This
transition can be more pressure cooker than melting pot, mixing idealism,
religion, bureaucracy, family complexities, shifting expectations, love and,
never far away, violence.

In this graceful and engaging work, Miller, winner of the
PEN Discovery award, succeeds in creating a world inhabited by religious Jews
of different backgrounds, mostly transplanted Americans, living out the words
of their long-repeated prayers to be close to Zion. She explores the many
meanings of home, rootedness and community.

Just as the characters in those earlier novels, set in tenements,
had little privacy, so, too, the families of the newly constructed Building
Four in Heavenly Heights — with its dishwashers, built-in teak cabinets and
balconies overlooking the mountains — know much about each other’s lives. The
stacked apartments are like a vertical bungalow colony, with shared ingredients
and stories, and the gang of kids playing outside. Every Friday night, when
their husbands go off to synagogue, the women of Building 4 gather on the
largest porch “to shake off the weekday world,” speaking the way women do when
the men aren’t around.

Heavenly Heights is “close enough to Jordan that a combat
tank starting out in Amman when you boiled your water for coffee would have you
serving to its corpsmen before you finished your own first cup.”

The name has the ring of other suburbs where many Jews live,
like Shaker Heights in Cleveland. A commuting neighborhood north of Jerusalem —
a “settlement if you needed to be technical” — it is home to many new
immigrants whose mortgages are underwritten by “an unidentified do-gooder
well-wisher Godfather who wanted Judea settled — and settled now.”

Miller said that the name Heavenly Heights came to her when
she flipped open a bencher (a small book with the blessings after the meal) to
the page with the phrase sometimes translated as “in the heavenly heights may
they seek our good.” The name stuck as the name of the neighborhood and then of
the book.

“Welcome to Heavenly Heights” is a literary novel of
characters and place rather than a story driven by plot. It is unusual in its
knowing depiction of an Orthodox community, from the inside, with empathy and
without satire or ambivalence.

“I don’t know of any frum literary fiction that likes
itself,” she said.

When Miller began the novel, she set it in the ’80s, and it
seemed timely then, but as the world was changing, she shifted the time and
updated it, shading in some of the violence and tension. It goes up to the edge
of the latest intifada, focusing mainly on Tova, who moves to Heavenly Heights
from Baltimore with her husband, Mike, and children. Readers see this new world
from Tova’s eyes, following her bumpy adjustment to a place where arrogant
appliance “installators,” head lice and guns left in the synagogue foyer
weren’t part of her dream. She wonders whether she was “supposed to absorb into
something or was it supposed to absorb into her.”

Tova shifts from the marriage wig she wore in Baltimore to a
head scarf, from teaching English to Russian immigrants to studying Hebrew in a
similar class. With sensitivity and some humor, Miller captures the cycles of
the week and the holidays, with meal preparations, mikvah visits, small acts of
devotion, weddings and special days like Lag B’Omer, when Tova’s family travels
to Mount Meron for their child’s first haircut. En route, they encounter a
tzitzit-wearing cowboy nudging his horse, “mammela, bubbela.” God is rarely
mentioned but the divine presence is felt, in the kitchen and across the

The novel also portrays the neighbors, including the soulful
Appalachian-born Debra and the back stories of how she and the others arrived
in Israel and their interconnected lives. Tova and Mike end up on an extended
stay back in America when his father gets ill while they are visiting. From
there, they experience a communal tragedy.

Miller too lived in Israel. With her husband and five
children, she made aliyah in 1988, settling in Jerusalem. But in 1990, while
back in Boston on what was meant to be a short vacation, her husband’s back
went out and he had to be in bed for a year. “It was like ‘Gilligan’s Island,’
she said, “when a ‘three-hour tour’ turned into an extended stay.” And, they
are still here.

“We lost our aliyah,” she says, recalling their resettling
in the United States as a time of trauma. They still think about returning, but
now they have grandchildren and aging parents in this country. And she speaks
of her Brookline, Mass., house — the place she’s lived longest since her
childhood in Baltimore — as her temporary home.

Although she had always been a serious reader and knew that
she took in the world a bit differently than others — recording her
observations of things on scraps of paper she’d pile up in a drawer — she began
to take writing seriously when, living back in Boston, the youngest of her children
started school. She took some writing courses and then enrolled in an Master of
Fine Arts program at Emerson College. There, she was studying with students
(and many teachers) who were younger than she was, and few had any context for
her Jewish references; that forced her to explain things with clarity for a
general audience. The heart of this novel was her master’s thesis, and with the
help of supportive teachers and other writers, she found an agent and

“I wrote this out of love and pain,” the author said. She
wants to achieve a feeling like what she went through, “like being punched in
the stomach.”

Miller, 49, grew up in a somewhat traditional home and
became Orthodox along with her husband in their early 20s; they’re now part of
the Bostoner rebbe’s community in Brookline. In writing, she is careful about
facts, although she also gives herself freedom to make up certain things as
long as they’re in the range of the possible. Heavenly Heights is a blending of
prototypes of different settlement communities.

“When writing about Israel, I have to be ethically truthful,
to represent things as they are.”

She’s pleased that several early reviewers refer to the
novel as undemonizing the settlers, showing their very human sides. But she’s
not writing a book with a message.

“I message my children plenty,” she said. “But it’s not my
style as a writer.”

Writing comes naturally, and some paragraphs even come to
her in blocks. She tells of driving along the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut
when the opening of the book seemed to “float down” to her, word for word. She
pulled off to the side of the road and jotted them down. For Miller, writing
can feel like setting jewels, taking words and fitting them in place. She’s
particularly interested in the sound of her sentences, and that’s evident in
their rhythmic qualities.

She has a talent for seeing the small, telling details. Soon
after Tova arrives in Israel, she realizes that she’s forgotten to pack rags,
“those repositories of family history,” her daughter’s first Florida T-shirt,
her husband’s worn terry robe. Instead she washes her granite counter tops with
a store-bought rag. “‘This is home,’ she rhythmed, trying to convince herself.
‘This is home.'”  

Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for The Jewish Week.

Isn’t She ‘Lovely?’

Nicole Holofcener is laughing at her Caesar salad, a sparse, pathetic-looking thing she ordered with no croutons and dressing on the side. "I’m nuts," says the writer-director of the breezy new comedy "Lovely & Amazing," chastely dipping a romaine frond into the dressing. "You saw the movie; I’m obsessed. I think I weigh 121 pounds, and I’m like ‘Oh, I have to weigh 119.’ And at the same time, I’m conscious that that’s utterly absurd."

It doesn’t help that a group of Playboy bunnies have congregated one table over from Holofcener’s at the Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica. But then again, the director’s an old pro at dissecting a particularly American form of mishegoss: the insecurity women feel about their bodies.

In "Lovely & Amazing" — a hit at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival — Jewish matriarch Jane Marks (Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn) endures liposuction to get dates. Her eldest daughter, Michelle (Oscar-nominee Catherine Keener), stuck in a loveless marriage, flirts with anything that moves. Middle child Elizabeth (Emily Mortimer), a gorgeous actress, is so neurotic about her looks that she flubs an audition with a studly star. Jane’s 8-year-old adopted African American daughter (Raven Goodwin), meanwhile, can’t decide whether to feel inferior because she’s black or Jewish.

"It’s as if she’s saying, ‘Which thing should I hold against myself?’" says Holofcener, 42, who grew up culturally Jewish in New York and Los Angeles. "As tragic as that is, it’s also funny."

If the Marks women are lovely and amazing, they’re also insecure and whiny: "There are so many intelligent and beautiful women who spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about their appearance," Holofcener says by way of explanation. As if to prove her point, the Playboy bunnies begin anxiously poring over their photo spreads.

Holofcener — like fellow independent filmmakers Allison Anders and Rebecca Miller — makes movies antithetical to the cuddly female bonding flicks Hollywood has championed (think "Boys on the Side").

It’s perhaps no accident that her self-deprecating comedies have been compared to the work of Woody Allen: Holofcener’s stepfather, Charles H. Joffe, produced all of Allen’s films and she virtually grew up on his movie sets. "I remember Woody sitting down and reading to me, but he could also be really glib and sarcastic," she recalls. "Once when I was 8, I had this big lollipop and I said, ‘Look, Woody!’ — and he took it from my hand and cracked it over my head." The incident sounds as humiliating as the most cringe-worthy sequence from "Lovely & Amazing."

Nevertheless, it was Allen who gave Holofcener her first movie jobs, initially as a production assistant on "A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy" and later as an apprentice editor on "Hannah and Her Sisters." She eventually earned a graduate degree in film from Columbia University and drew attention with some spry short films.

Holofcener honed her 1996 debut feature, "Walking and Talking" — about a woman in crisis after her best friend gets engaged — at a Sundance workshop. The impetus, she says, was turning 30 and freaking out when her best friend announced she was getting married. "I was going through all these dates from hell, and she’d found Mr. Right…. They were just off the deep end in love, and you know, nauseating, and I wondered if I’d ever find anyone," she recalls. "I was also jealous, because I felt I was losing her, so I was really immature and acted out and complained and made things that weren’t about me. It was just so much about me losing her instead of being thrilled for her."

Holofcener, whose debut starred the then-unknown actresses Keener and Anne Heche, was married with children by the time she began writing "Lovely & Amazing" in the late 1990s (she’s since separated from her husband). She says the movie is an ode to her own mother who, like the fictional Jane, adopted a black child after separating from her spouse some years ago.

It’s also an ode to a mother’s love, however imperfect: "When I was going through awful relationships and getting my heart broken, my mother would always say to me, ‘You’re lovely and amazing and it’s all his fault,’" Holofcener says. "Which was great, but it also drove me nuts, because I wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always his fault."

Yet as the director finishes her Caesar, dipping the last of the lettuce into the dressing, she predicts she’ll probably do the same with her 4-year-old twin sons. "I’m going to constantly tell them they’re fabulous," she says with a smile. "And lovely and amazing."

The movie opens today in Los Angeles.