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.'”
These are hard times and good times for Israel’s movie industry. Major international films crews have all but abandoned the Jewish State as an on-site location since Brad Pitt and Robert Redford scuttled plans some three years ago to shoot “Spy Game” around Haifa and switched to Morocco instead.
The intifada has also scared off Hollywood celebrities (with very few exceptions), who used to pop up at Israeli film festivals and award ceremonies.
In their isolation, however, Israeli producers and directors have come up with a number of films that have garnered acclaim and awards at film festivals in the United States, Europe, Japan and Argentina.
There is some hope that “Nina’s Tragedies” can extend the streak at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, during the Jan. 15-25 event.
Two other Israeli films will be screened at Sundance, and at least two more at the affiliated SchmoozeDance, the Jewish festival, on Jan. 16.
“Nina’s Tragedies,” subtitled “A Very Sad Comedy,” is directed and written by Savi Gabizon (“Lovesick on Nana Street”) and won 11 Israeli Academy Awards. It is Israel’s entry for foreign-language film Oscar honors and is given a slim outside chance to qualify as one of the five finalists for the big prize.
With its multitude of characters and subplots, it’s not an easy movie to summarize.
Basically, it revolves around the real and fantasy lives of Nadav (Aviv Elkabeth), a nerdy-looking 13-year-old, whose sexual awakening is stimulated by peeping through windows, but whose overriding obsession is on his beautiful aunt Nina (Ayelet July Zorer).
When Nina’s husband Haimon (Yoram Hatav) is killed on reserve army duty, Nadav’s highest hopes are fulfilled when he is asked to move in with the aunt to help out the disconsolate widow.
However, his elation is short-lived as handsome and sensitive photographer Avinoam (Alan Aboutbul) wins Nina’s affection and bedspace. Nina has some additional problems, when she spots her late husband, or his doppelganger, walking stark naked down the city streets.
Meanwhile, back at Nadav’s home, his fashion designer mother has kicked her increasingly religious husband out of the apartment. He joins a Chabad-like group, whose members dance in the streets to reclaim secular Jews for the faith.
There are more characters, including an adult peeping tom and his kooky Russian girlfriend, but despite it all, Nadav survives and even grows up a bit by learning about the nature of love, sexuality and family.
Both the acting and direction are well-above average, but what strikes the Diaspora viewer is the yuppyish tone and setting of the film. Just about everybody seems to live in an elegantly furnished apartment, wear stylish clothes, patronize upscale cafes and never worry about money.
Surely, Israelis are entitled to some escapist fare in these times, but it is odd how many Israeli movies fall into the same category.
As Hannah Brown writes in her Jerusalem Post review of recent Israeli movies, they “are set in a bizarre vacuum, a kind of ghost landscape, in which there are no wars, no Palestinians, no hourly news broadcasts or newspapers, no political discussions, no army service.”
An exception is the excellent “Yossi & Jagger,” which was honored at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Though the film’s focus is on the understated homosexual relationship between two army officers in combat, “Yossi & Jagger” astutely explore the real problems facing Israel’s younger generation.
Judging by the plot summaries, at least three of the four Israeli films to be shown in Park City also deal with real life in the Jewish State.
“The Garden,” which is having its world premiere at Sundance, tackles the unusual and unexplored problem of gay Palestinian teenagers, rejected by their own families, who cross the Green Line to work as male prostitutes in downtown Tel Aviv, in constant danger of deportation.
“Checkpoint,” also at Sundance, centers on one of the most grating symbols of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the road checkpoints manned by Israeli soldiers to prevent terrorist infiltration.
To the Arab population, the checkpoints are constant and humiliating reminders. The film won a top award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival.
Set for the SchmoozeDance festival are “Do They Catch Children Too?” and “My Mom, the General.”
The first focuses on Israel’s foreign workers, mainly Asians, and the lives and fears of their children.
Apparently a bit more light-hearted is “My Mom, the General,” in which director Shevi Rosenfeld records the doings of her 59-year-old mother, and grandmother of six, who decides to volunteer for reserve service on the army’s front lines.
For more information about the Sundance Festival, visitwww.sundance.org .
Picture the "Bad News Bears" in a basketball court, add kippot and a dash of Chanukah and you have the makings of the Disney Channel’s latest original movie, "Full-Court Miracle." The film is based on the true story of Lamont Carr (Richard T. Jones), a down-and-out former University of Virginia basketball star, who is asked to coach the Hebrew Academy Lions by the team’s captain Alex Schlotsky (14-year-old Alex D. Linz). Schlotsky, after learning about the Chanukah legend in school, is convinced that Carr is really Judah Maccabee. Meanwhile, Alex’s mother, a doctor, wants him to give up basketball and follow in her footsteps.
The real Carr, whose knee problems kept him out of the NBA, was introduced to Jewish basketball when he was asked to run a Boca Raton JCC camp during Passover in the early ’90s. He also coached for the Maccabee Games and is currently on sabbatical from Donna Klein Academy.
"When I saw [the movie] for the first time, I swelled up [with pride] a little bit," said Carr, who was a consultant for the film and worked with the young cast on their court skills. "The actors didn’t know jack about basketball…. They looked like the Three Stooges."
Linz is an ice hockey fan, but he thinks that Disney’s airing of a Chanukah-themed movie is "awesome"; he also enjoyed Carr’s coaching methods.
"During one scene, I had to do a shooting drill," he said. "He put a psychological spin on it."
While the miracle of Chanukah pops up in the dramatic finale — involving dwindling fuel in the gym’s generator — Linz and Carr have their own take on modern miracles.
"I was brought up in a very logical place," said Linz, who had his bar mitzvah at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. "But I think they would [happen]."
"Miracles happen all the time," said Carr, who became a fan of glatt kosher food after he started working with the JCC. "That I can give this interview is a miracle."
"Full-Court Miracle" premieres on the Disney Channel at 8 p.m., Fri., Nov. 21.; Sat., Nov. 22; and Sun., Nov. 23.
"The Syringa Tree," which won the 2001 Obie Award for best play and premieres in Los Angeles this week, might be the first theatrical work to deal with the complicated and ambiguous relations between Jews and blacks in South Africa. A solo performance written and acted by Pamela Gien, it is a partly fictionalized — though mostly factual — account of a half-Jewish, half-English child in Johannesburg during apartheid. Created by Gien in a Santa Monica acting class in 1996, the play was inspired by the brutal murder of Gien’s grandfather when she was a child.
Using little in the way of stage effects outside of a swing and a cyclorama (a two-layered semicircular backdrop), Gien creates an uncommonly moving, even wrenching, study of race relations as seen through the eyes of a little girl, Elizabeth, aka Lizzy. I was reminded of James Agee’s tone-poem "Knoxville: Summer of 1915," where the daily events of adults are experienced through the imagination, and expressed through the luminous images, of a child.
Yet "The Syringa Tree" — Gien’s debut writing effort — is about a lot more than the nostalgia of a lazy day in Tennessee. It is concerned with the suffering of black people under apartheid and the various ways whites dealt with their responsibility for it.
In a speech given to the Harvard Jewish faculty by my wife, Doreen Beinart, a Jewish South African, she noted that while organized Jewry (including the Jewish Board of Deputies and most Orthodox rabbis) did not protest apartheid for fear of being subjected to Afrikaner bigotry, individual Jews — such as Joe Slovo, chief of staff of the military wing of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress — were often among the most active white people fighting racism.
That divided attitude permeates Gien’s play. From the moment the black maid, Sellamina, refers to her little charge as "my pickaninny missus," we are in a nest of nurturing warmth and color-blind affection built on a foundation of hierarchy and subjugation — somewhat like that of the antebellum American South.
In order to depict such a world, Gien has single-handedly created a theatrical album of 24 characters. She was once an actress in my company, the American Repertory Theatre, but nothing in her previous work prepared me for what she is delivering here — a series of character transformations so instantaneous and intense that the stage seems peopled with multitudes.
Still, it is not just the technical achievement that startles one into attention. It is the way she manages to delineate, physically and vocally, a whole world of whites, blacks, Jews and Afrikaners — a world of divided identities where the very fact that a black baby (Sellamina’s daughter, Moliseng) has been born without "papers" can destroy her and uproot everyone around her.
Gien has perfect pitch in the way she depicts characters, such as the harassed father dispensing precious medicines; the slightly hysterical, vaguely depressed mother; the rigid Afrikaner farmers praying for rain, and particularly the stoical Faulknerian maid and her own child whom Lizzy’s parents help to birth.
Lizzy’s Jewish father is a doctor and her English mother manages the black staff with sympathy, yet both mother and father are regarded as outlanders, by blacks and whites alike.
When Sellamina takes Moliseng to her family in Soweto, the little girl gets sick and is lost in a hospital where people are dying of dehydration. In her terror and grief, Sellamina rocks under the syringa tree, mindless of the berries falling on her body. Lizzy’s parents help to find the little girl and return her safely to her mother.
It is that sort of thing that leads the hard-nosed Afrikaner farmers to believe that the Jews and English are making trouble with the blacks who will come and kill them in their beds.
Sadly, the Afrikaner prophecy comes true. Lizzy’s father discovers that his wife’s parents have been murdered on their Natal farm in the course of a petty theft. Sellamina is so ashamed of the violence that she can no longer look the family in the eye, and soon she leaves. Not long thereafter, the terrible events of Soweto erupt.
Eventually, the grown-up Elizabeth departs for America, vowing never to come back because "we don’t change things." Nonetheless, she returns to Johannesburg after the fall of apartheid, is reunited with Sellamina and finds her past again. This reunion constitutes a poem of inconsolable loss and nostalgia ("Oh God, how I miss it!") that leaves the audience grieving as much as the central character for the beloved country. At the end of the play, she is back where she began, on a swing, ecstatic with a vision of lost paradise.
The performance is impeccable. Gien has a meticulous eye for detail and the capacity to render each moment with truth and illumination. Don’t miss this transcendent dramatic experience.