Monday, October 13, 2008

Baby and Me

Well, I'm back from my birthday weekend in Chicago. Talk about shaking off a funk! I had a wonderful birthday spent with great friends, great shopping, great food, great sangria, and more.
My sis and I caught the train Saturday afternoon and were in Naperville around 2:45. On the train, I finally had the uninterrupted reading time to read Dennis Letts's amazing August Osage County. You know, sometimes you read a script everyone is raving about and you're like, "Meh." The hype can kill the script because your expectations are so incredibly high. But then you get your hands on a script like this one and it's just like, "The praise isn't enough!" It was also the first time in a long time that I didn't read a script and think how I would direct it or think about how much I'd love to play a certain part. All I could think was, "I need to freakin' SEE this play!" It really is an American classic. Amazing.
After my friend Deb picked me up from the train and we dropped off my stuff and I changed from train clothes into theatre-going clothes, we headed into the city where we met up with my friends Pete and Bart and headed for some tapas. I'd never experienced tapas before, so let me just say, "YOWZA!" That stuff was incredible. We ate so much and drank so much sangria. I'm actually surprised I was able to handle seeing a play after drinking and eating so much.
But I was. Dirty Dancing was a lot of fun. It was a little different than I expected. I thought it would be more of a traditional music with the characters singing and maybe with the storyline even tweaked and streamlined for the stage, but it wasn't like that. A lot of the music simply provided a score for the action, and about 98% of the stuff on stage was right from the movie -- every scene was there with a few added that we wondered if maybe had been cut from the movie but a part of the original script. The show was a technical marvel with its use of projection and turntables. The dancing was incredible. Plus, for the uber-geek in me, it was cool to see Dr. Houseman played by John Bolger who has appeared on two different episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, an episode of Sex and the City, and has done plenty of time on soaps -- Guiding Light (he was a Phillip!), Another World, and One Life to Live. (Mike, I KNOW you know who this guy is!)
It did have its flaws. Sometimes, the score was a little too loud. The guy playing Johnny was really, how do I put this? . . . not good. His acting was very stiff and "acting-y" and it didn't help that he hadn't completely shaken his Australian accent. I'm sure that accent was fine in Toronto or London where they probably marveled over his "American" accent, but here in America, we know what Johnny Castle is supposed to sound like, and it's not like Crocodile Dundee's younger brother. Sorry, dude. You dance well, but keep working on that accent.
Johnny's deficiencies were more than made up for by the actress playing Baby. Recognizing that people seeing the musical pretty much wanted their memories of the film relived, Amanda Lee Cobb essentially channeled Jennifer Grey. She was the whole package -- the hair, the voice, the wardrobe. And her performance reminded me why this movie had such an impact on me when I sat in a downtown movie theatre on my 16th birthday seeing a movie I'd basically rolled my eyes about when I had first heard about it.
For me, Dirty Dancing had nothing to do with dancing or Patrick Swayze or the music. It was about Baby Houseman. Let's take a moment to go back and meet 16-year-old Mel. I was awkward and unsure of myself. It didn't help probably that two of my closest friends had moved away within the first two years of high school and the friend I had left was super smart and super beautiful and super talented (artistically and musically). I was smart and deeply into politics -- and just about the only person I knew like that.
For my 16th birthday, Caity (the super perfect best friend mentioned above) and I decided for a lowkey celebration. We decided to go see Dirty Dancing even though we'd both groaned aloud when we had first seen the preview. I thought (and honestly still do) Patrick Swayze was icky, and the whole thing just had seemed lame. When it opened in August, it was a definite "pass." By October, though, the phenomenon was growing, the movie had been playing downtown for months, and I'd heard enough about it that I thought maybe I wouldn't mind seeing it. Plus, there was nothing else playing that we wanted to see. (This was before a multiplex hit town.)
Sitting in that theatre, I suddenly saw "myself" on screen. Here was this awkward "daddy's girl", not what people would call "conventionally pretty" (although I would have killed to look like Jennifer Grey back then -- pre-nose job), politically idealistic, and completely real. Baby wasn't sure how to act in some situations (the whole watermelon scene is indicative of that). She can't control her giggles during the more sensual moments of her dance with Johnny. When Johnny rescued Baby from the corner, it sent my soul soaring, and again, it wasn't about Patrick Swayze. It was about this notion of breaking free to discover who you really are. Baby Houseman became an icon to a generation of awkward girls who were smarter than their peers, who wanted to make a difference in the world, and who wanted to break free. Baby made it okay to be different and told us that even if we were different, someone would find us special.
This weekend, all those feelings came flooding back to me as I watched this new Baby find her voice and her courage and follow her heart. And I have a feeling I wasn't the only person who cried just a little when she flew into her triumphant lift during the finale -- that symbolic moment where Baby breaks free and soars. It still moves me to this day.
The rest of the weekend went well -- good shopping, good times. And I came home from the weekend feeling particularly recharged -- and I think a lot of it had to do with reconnecting with the Baby Houseman I was, still am, and will always be.


Peter said...

I'm beginning to wonder about this watermelon.

Mel said...

Until you've seen the movie, you just won't get it. It's a moment so perfect for its sheer awkwardness.