by Brenda Goldstein
Saturday, December 29th’s premiere of Robin Garbose’ “A Light for Greytowers” at Paramount Picture’s Sherry Lansing Theatre in Hollywood looked like a “Who’s Who” of Los Angeles’ Orthodox community: the rebbetzin and her daughter, the shadchanit and her daughter, the Bais Yaakov girls and a wide assortment of others. For most of them, the experience of the press and paparazzi-laden, red carpet affair represented the first of, hopefully, many to come.
“Greytowers,” the first feature-length musical film produced for a female-only audience, goes in accordance with Jewish law stating that women and girls may not sing and dance in front of men. Only three male actors actually appear in the film, but never in the scenes with singing and dancing. Garbose co-produced the film with husband Levi Yitzhaq Garbose, who also composed the music and lyrics for the film’s catchy, moving score.
English authors Eva Vogiel and Ruth Steinberg wrote the novel Greytowers, a religious Jewish version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Little Princess.” Set in Victorian England, the story revolves around Miriam Aronowitch, who flees with her mother, Anya, from Cossack Russia to safety in England. When Anya falls critically ill, her patroness brings Miriam to Greytowers Orphanage for Girls, into the clutches of matron Miss Agatha Grimshaw. Because of the modest dress characteristic of this period, “Greytowers” seemed to Garbose like the perfect story to bring to the screen.
Garbose received a generous grant from the Jewish Community Foundation to produce “Greytowers.” Marketing and Communications specialist Bonnie Samotin represented the Foundation at the screening, and had only good things to say about this film that expressed “such a beautiful, tender message of faith and preserving Jewish tradition even in oppressive times.”
Garbose, a producer and director of theatre and television, became religious in the early ’90s. She started Kol Neshama, a performing arts camp for religious girls, about eight years ago. Kol Neshama provides an excellent opportunity for Orthodox girls from every corner of the globe (alumnae have come from as far away as Israel, South Africa, Argentina and Germany) to develop their talents. The troupe has put on many productions, including a stage version of “Greytowers.”
Rising star Abby Shapiro carries the film beautifully in her role as 12-year-old Miriam, who holds on strongly to her faith in Hashem, even when tormented by the horrible Miss Grimshaw. Singer Judy Winegard magnificently portrays Miss Grimshaw as an evil, yet campy and vulgar figure, to the point that she seems to almost parody someone’s worst nightmare (as Miss Grimshaw indeed represents to the sleeping Miriam). Supremely talented Kol Neshama veteran Hadas Gross plays the clumsy yet quietly intense Clothilde, another girl at Greytowers. Chaya’le Fogelman plays the perfect counterpart to Miss Grimshaw – Miss Sarah Eidelberg, the former, loving, Jewish matron of Greytowers. Like Winegard, Fogelman has a superb singing voice. Other notables include Esther Perel Marks as Lady Penelope Beamish, a patroness of Greytowers, as well as Rivka Siegel and Elliot Kotek as Anya and Avraham Aronowitch, Miriam’s parents.
One of the premiere’s attendees called “Greytowers” a “masterpiece” that “exceeded all our expectations,” and said she wondered “if the Oscars will add in a ‘women’s only’ category.”
Garbose plans to screen “Greytowers” in northern California. She will premiere “Greytowers” on the East Coast as well, and has a screening planned for February 2 in Passaic, NJ. Garbose also hopes to show the film to women and girls in other religious communities, as well as to all-female groups on college campuses and high schools.
Kol HaKavod, Robin Garbose — and watch out, Hollywood: A new, formidable contender has just stepped into the ring.