Friday, July 16, 2021

Book Review: Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #9: Starring The Baby-Sitters Club!

 ARE YOU READY...

 FOR SOME DRAMA?!


Okay, now that I have that out of my system...

Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #9, Starring the Baby-Sitters Club, is a bit of a departure from previous Super Specials. The earlier eight were all about epic vacations or news-worthy semi-disasters (and sometimes both at once!) But by the time #9 rolled around, perhaps the BSC's writers thought it best to keep the baby-sitters in Stoneybrook and keep the local weather in check for once. But what other kind of plot could be worthy of a Super Special? 

Enter: Theatre.

Or, at least, community theater... an amateur production of Peter Pan.

A bit o'history: This book was published in 1992, a golden era for the Boy in Green. The early 90s were all about Peter Pan. Disney released its animated version on VHS in 1990. The Mary Martin stage production from 1960 had been restored and released on VHS around the same time. Cathy Rigby was swinging on wires on Broadway, playing Peter from 1990-1991. Hook, Steven Spielberg's imaginative Peter Pan sequel, had made a splash in theaters in 1991, and was released on VHS in 1992.  

So here we are (were? oh, never mind) in late 1992, and Peter Pan is coming to Stoneybrook! It is to be a "musical extravaganza." Posters go up in the school hallways, and all the baby-sitters are intrigued at varying levels. 

Jessi -- who gets to start this book -- is very interested. With her dance background and stage experience, she's sure she's the #1 one choice to play Peter. Jessi's feeling high on life at the moment, because she's just earned a spot on the school newspaper. She pitches a story about the play, and gets the go-ahead to write the story.

Though it never makes it into the infamous Chapter Twos of BSC books -- alongside Stacey's diabetes, Claudia's junk food addiction, and Kristy's love of turtlenecks -- one fact about Jessi becomes very clear in this book, and will continue to plague the series at an alarming level: Jessi likes to overextend herself. Like... a lot. The girl already does school, baby-sitting, and ballet. Now she's joining the school newspaper and the school play. It's a good thing the baby-sitters live in a time vortex where months and years don't matter, because I'm not sure how a normal mortal could fit all these things in their schedule.

So Jessi begins to imagine herself as the star of the play, and when the baby-sitters talk about the subject, Jessi practically tells them, Yeah, I'm going to be Peter Pan. The others are like... "uhhhh...." But Jessi doesn't seem to notice. (I'll refrain from adding semi-delusional to Jessi's resume, only because that is a very teenage trait. She's acting her age. She's fine. So long as she outgrows it someday....)

Jessi also tells the others about her gig on the newspaper, and at some point asks them to start taking notes about their experiences working on the play so that she can glean the notes for her story. Everyone's on board with that.

We learn that Stacey, Dawn, Logan and Kristy are all planning to audition for the play. Stacey wants a small role, Dawn hopes to be Tiger Lily, Logan aims to play a pirate, and Kristy wants to play Nana the dog. Claudia opts to paint scenery. Mary Anne wants no part of the production, which makes me sad. Mary Anne of the Netflix series would've totally taken part! (I think I prefer that Mary Anne.)

While the girls are discussing the upcoming auditions over lunch in the school cafeteria, Kristy happens to notice that they are being watched -- by none other than Cokie Mason and her crew. Guess what -- Cokie's auditioning for Tiger Lily, too! Should Dawn still try out for the role, and risk Cokie's wrath? Thinks Dawn: I was pretty sure Cokie and Grace were now whispering about us. Probably they were plotting horrible, terrifying deeds. 

Audition day! Half of Stoneybrook shows up. The younger kids audition first. The director, hapless middle school teacher Mr. Cheney, tells the the auditioners that he needs small children to fill the roles of the Indians, Lost Boys, and Michael.

Enter Karen Brewer.

"Excuse me, Sir? What about Tinker Bell?"

The director tries to explain to Karen that a human Tinker Bell won't be necessary -- a flashlight will suffice -- but Karen yells: "But I want to be Tink! I WANT TO WEAR A FAIRY PRINCESS COSTUME!"

What a brat, huh? Certainly she won't get her way, especially not after that outburst???

Hahaha! It's freaking Karen Brewer! She gets what she wants! All of Stoneybrook is resigned to this by now.

Then the rest of the baby-sitters audition. Logan turns out to be a rotten actor. Kristy's actually quite good. Stacey and Dawn both do well. 

When it's Jessi's turn, she re-introduces herself to Mr. Cheney, and tells the reader that she and Mr. Cheney have a previous connection -- he was one of the chaperones on the trip they took in Super Special #3. What she fails to mention -- and you'd think this might be relevant -- is that that was the book where she, an eleven-year-old, organized the entire school talent show. Nope? Not gonna mention that? (Actually, I'm surprised the writers even called back to a previous Super Special at all... it so seldom happens.)

Anyway, Jessi does her audition, and she thinks has performed beautifully, but she isn't asked for a callback. Still, she's not worried about that. Certainly not receiving a callback just means she has already landed the part.

Next up, a chapter about Cokie, mortal enemy of babysitters -- and the horrible realization (by me, the reader) that Cokie is actually... pretty cool. She tells us how she has manipulated the school system to have five classes together with her best friend, Grace. Also that they pass notes to each other regarding the latest episode of General Hospital. This sounds awfully familiar... 

ANYWAY, it's the end of the school day, and everyone's all abuzz because... the roles have been posted! Cokie finds out she's going to be Tiger Lily! But she can't be too excited about that, since it also seems as if the members of the wretched Baby-Sitters Club are basically taking over the play....

The Roles:

Peter Pan... Kristy Thomas

Wendy... Dawn Schafer

Mrs. Darling... Stacey McGill

Mr. Darling... Sam Thomas

Pirate... Logan Bruno

Pirate... Jessi Ramsey

Scenery... Claudia Kishi

Costumes... Mallory Pike

Tinker Bell... Effing Karen

As the chapter ends, Cokie manages to throw verbal threats at both Mallory and Claudia, telling them they'd better make her look good in the play. "If anything goes wrong, I'm going to blame you." Aw, gee whiz, Cokie! Not blame!

At the club meeting, later, the baby-sitters are discussing their roles in the play. Kristy can't believe she's going to be Peter Pan! (Meanwhile, I can't believe she got blindsided like that. I mean, if I were the director, I'd have at least discussed it with her before being like, "I know you wanted a small part, but here -- please carry the entire play.")

Meanwhile, Jessi is not happy that she was cast as a pirate. She's sitting off by herself, making comments under her breath and letting out snorts. But it turns out she's not the only disappointed diva in Stoneybrook. Mallory tells the others that upon finding out that she was playing an Indian, her little sister Claire decided to quit the play. "Claire says she will not be in the play unless she can wear a beautiful costume." Claire: out!

We then learn that Jessi has refused the role of the pirate, and after talking to the director, Mr. Cheney, she has agreed to be an assistant choreographer instead. 

Mal asks tentatively, "Jessi? Did you ask Mr. Cheney why he gave you the part of a pirate?" 

Jessi says yes. Basically it's because she's already had a lot of experience in starring roles. "He said... um, he said I'm too good for the part. Yeah, that's what he said."

Kristy is momentarily offended, but Stacey agrees with Mr. Cheney. "Jessi, it is true you've been on stage a lot in your life and most of us haven't. I think Mr. Cheney's just trying to be fair."

At this point, Jessi emits her third snort of the afternoon, and Kristy has had enough: "Oh, be quiet. You sound like a horse." (Nice try, Kristy, but to Mallory and Jessi, this is a high compliment.)

 In the next chapter, Mary Anne, who had vowed never to go near the stage, ends up becoming part of the production after all. Her official title? "Backstage baby-sitter." Seeing as how she has baby-sat for nearly every Lost Boy and Indian in a five-mile radius, not to mention Jackie Rodowsky, who's playing Michael, she's perfect for the job. Also, Mr. Cheney is clearly already regretting this entire production and questioning his life choices, and could use the help.

Meanwhile, Mallory's an apprentice costume designer (for some reason? I can't remember if it's ever been established that Mallory likes to sew) and it turns out this job is a recipe for embarrassment. The head costume designer, Savannah Minton, wants Mallory to measure people for their costumes, for pete's sake! Like, with measuring tape! On their bodies. And Mallory can't. At least, she can't bring herself to measure the high school boy who's playing Captain Hook. 

By the way, Savannah gets introduced to us via this weird thought by Mallory: 

Savannah (who doesn't go by a nickname, because the only one anyone can ever think of is Vanna, and she absolutely refuses)... 

A) What's wrong with Vanna? Because the only notable Vanna is Vanna White? But she's cool! 

B) WHAT ABOUT "ANNA"? Hello? 

Anyway, Mallory's triplet siblings are making peashooters and aiming them at people, and when Mal goes to stop them, she annoys Mary Anne, who tells her "Mallory, I am the backstage baby-sitter. Please remember that." Well, la tee da, Mary Anne.

Dawn's chapter is next, and watch out, Mr. Cheney! The girl you cast as Wendy is COMING for you! Or, rather, the script. Dawn thinks the whole Peter Pan story is sexist. Peter should be taught to sew his own shadow on his body. That practical life skill is one all genders should be taught! So Dawn starts changing the lines. This ticks off the director and throws Kristy, as Peter, for a loop.

Meanwhile, Logan and the rest of the pirates don't have much to do, so they play-sword fight. They're getting on Mr. Cheney's nerves (actually, everyone is -- Dawn with her script-challenging, Kristy with her inability to memorize lines, and Cokie with her snide remarks), but when Logan takes things a little too far (yelling about a mutiny), Mr. Cheney kicks him out of the play. 

Well, for like ten seconds. Logan apologizes at the end of the rehearsal, and is reinstated -- on probation.

On page 118, Kristy casually mentions: By the way, in case you're wondering, the BSC had informed its clients that club meetings were going to be suspended during the rehearsals for Peter Pan, but that Claudia could take messages and arrange jobs (with over-the-phone help from Mary Anne) any time she was at home. Oh yeah, I nearly forgot they still had a business to run. Actually, since half their clients are in the play, and are being watched for free by Mary Anne, I dare a single parent to complain.

Kristy overhears Cokie asking Mr. Cheney for her own private dressing room. Kristy is furious at Cokie's nerve, and decides to play a prank on Cokie. She tells Cokie, "I thought of the perfect dressing room for you." Then Kristy leads Cokie to a mop closet. Cokie fumes, and Kristy prances away laughing. Then (writes Kristy) that night, I telephoned every single one of my friends, and told them what I'd done. They were proud of me. 

BUT THEN! Cokie actually asks the janitor for permission to use the closet as a dressing room, taping a star to the door! When Kristy finds out, instead of feeling like a fool (like she should), she tells us: I vowed revenge on Cokie Mason.

Again, this is teenage behavior, but really, Kristy? Really?

Jackie Rodowsky, who plays Michael, takes the next chapter. We learn that nobody's going to be wearing flying harnesses in this play, which is a little disappointing to Jackie, but is probably for the best, considering his history of causing mayhem. Actually, he tries to cause that anyway. If he can't have "flying ropes," maybe jumping off the scenery will suffice? He tries to do a cannonball off a dresser, but is caught by the director and admonished. Thinks Jackie: I decided I would practice jumping off my own dresser at home. 

Jackie's next disappointment involves his costume -- it's nothing but a white night shirt, and it reminds him of a ladies' nightgown. Then that is forgotten when he sees the most horrible sight of all: THE CROCODILE COSTUME. Turns out Jackie is terrified of this costume, which makes me wonder if the production blew half its budget on renting this thing, if it looks that realistic. 

In Jessi's next chapter, we learn that Sam Thomas has been annoying Stacey by constantly referring to her as "Mrs. Darling." Also, Jessi tells us how hard she's been working on this play. First, people (namely Mallory) keep asking her for advice. Second, she does the whole teaching-kids-their-choreography thing. And that makes her practically the play's assistant producer, does it not? She secretly wonders... if Kristy can't master her lines, perhaps Mr. Cheney will give Jessi the role of Peter after all! When Mr. Cheney calls everyone together for an announcement, Jessi secretly hopes to get this good news, but instead Mr. Cheney just tells the kids the programs are ready for proofing. Jessi takes a look. Her credit reads: Jessica Ramsey: Assistant choreographer. Jessi is dismayed; she feels she is so much more! So she crosses her name off the program altogether. Mr. Cheney asks her why she did it. But Jessi can't seem to verbalize the fact that her ego is out of control.

Opening night is drawing near, and things are still chaotic. Stacey is super annoyed by Sam constantly referring to her as "dearest" or "Mrs. Darling," but she kind of just puts up with it and doesn't say anything. Then, during a dress rehearsal, Stacey is distracted by Cokie Mason, sitting in the front row of the audience, apparently heckling her. Kristy forgets her lines. Jackie freaks out over the crocodile. Sam calls Stacey "Mrs. Darling" again, and this time she loses it and tells him to "Cut it out." Then she storms off. 

Sam responds to this in the next chapter by writing: "Women. Who needs them? Who can understand them? Unfortunately, I need them. But I don't think I'll ever understand them. Sometimes my own grandmother gets fed up with me. And Kristy is always flying off the handle whenever I say the littlest thing to her, especially if it concerns her appearance. And when I make a goof call during one of her BSC meetings... well, now she usually just hangs up on me." Haha, females, amirite? But then we get a pretty thoughtful chapter in which Sam explains why he's been acting the way he has. He's been getting some grief from his friends for dating an eighth-grader (he's in tenth) so he's been trying to prove to them how much "fun" he and Stacey have when they're together. Sam and Stacey eventually talk it out, salvaging their relationship -- and sanity --  for the time being.

Four days till opening night! Karen Brewer now wants the tinkling sounds of a triangle to accompany her fairy self as she runs around on stage. Meanwhile, Mary Anne keeps butting heads with Mallory. Mallory continues to try to solve childrens' problems during rehearsals, but that's Mary Anne's "job." In reality, Mallory's really just getting in Mary Anne's space, and it's annoying to Mary Anne. Eventually, Mallory backs off and begins to focus on her actual job, helping keep all the costumes straight.

Dress rehearsal time! The kids from Stoneybrook Elementary are coming to watch this show, and Jackie Rodowsky is mortified at the thought that they'll all see him in a night shirt. He's also still afraid of the crocodile. During the performance, he decides to throw a styrofoam rock at the croc and yell "Cowabunga!" and "Crocabunga!" which both get LOLs from the kids in the audience. Backstage, after the scene, he gets admonished and threatened with banishment from the play. (The way things are going, I really hope Mr. Cheney has a whole line of understudies queued up and ready to go.)

We finally get another Claudia chapter, and we learn that she is proud of the scenery she designed for the show. Now, with only hours before opening night, she eats an Almond Joy and talks to her deceased grandmother, Mimi. She concludes her speech with, "Well, wish me luck, Mimi. If you're up there floating around somewhere, peek down at the play tonight and look at the sets. I'll be in the audience, so look down at me too. I love you." D'aw.

Stacey ends up coming over to Claudia's house then, and they hang out, watching an old movie. In the movie, the characters are putting on a play. Some scenery crashes down on one of the actresses. This causes Claudia to have all-new worries about her scenery killing people. Then the phone rings in Claudia's room and it's Cokie. She's worried about the scenery in one of her scenes. After hanging up, Claudia says to Stacey: "This is eerie. Here we are worrying about the sets killing someone, and then Cokie calls with a question about the sets. Can you imagine if the backdrop did kill her? Everyone would think I had done it on purpose to get rid of her." 

"No one would blame you," Stacey replied, smiling.

This gets me thinking. Claudia is an artist, but she's no engineer. That scenery might be painted nicely, but who built it? Who made sure it was up to code? Perhaps we'll have a deadly opening night after all.

Jessi is thisclose to not even wanting to attend opening night. But she decides to go to the play after all, and wouldn't you know it? Pete Black, who plays Nana and the Crocodile, has fallen off his bike and broken his nose! So Mr. Cheney asks Jessi to fill the roles. The horror! The degradation of playing animals! But Jessi finally gives in, and there's a perk -- now that she's in the croc costume, Jackie Rodowsky isn't scared of it anymore!

Dear Pete Black, sorry about your ruined face, but trust -- it was all for the best.

Opening night jitters abound as Kristy arrives at the auditorium. She runs into Cokie and Grace, who try to psych her out and make her think she'll forget her lines. And she actually does forget one -- her very first one. But luckily Jessi is there in the wings to whisper it to Kristy, and from then on, Kristy does great. But then she does this weird thing where she sings parts of Cokie's songs right along with Cokie, just to mess with her. Um,  Kristy? Is this feud you guys have SO important that you're going to risk ruining the play over it? Okay then.

Things go well for Dawn as she breezes through the play as Wendy. Her stepdad surprises her afterward by handing her a video tape -- he's recorded the show, so she can send the tape to her dad in California. 

After the play is all over, Jessi reflects on the whole thing. Says she: After all my griping, after my temper tantrums and bad moods, you know what I discovered? That I really did want to be in the play. I should have taken up Mr. Cheney's offer to be a pirate from the start. Plus, I guess it's true. I'm a great dancer, but maybe I am not such a hot singer or actress. Yet. Oh, well. Live and learn. In the end, I made up with all my friends, and had a terrific time playing Nana and the croc. I'm only sorry Pete Black had to break his nose in order for me to learn those lessons.

Members of the cast and crew give Jessi some final notes for her story in the school newspaper. 

Cokie's reads: 

Kristy, I'm going to get you. Beware. Revenge is sweet. 

In a previous book, Cokie was obsessed with Mary Anne. Now it's Kristy. Well, Kristy may or may not reciprocate, but Cokie? I see you, girl.

So ends the book. Now... it's time to take a look at our Super Special Checklist!

🗹Will someone make an unusual friend who is then never heard from again? (Alas, no.)

🗹Will one of the baby-sitters fall in LUV? (No luv.)

☑Will at least one baby-sitter who is supposed to be on vacation/sans children be put in a position where they must care for children anyway? (Yes! Mary Anne initially swears off the play, but is then asked to be a backstage baby-sitter.)

☑Will someone have a near-death experience? (I'm going to say that Pete Black falling on his face is a lot more serious than they let on. Then again, he's only a side character so perhaps it doesn't count.)

☑Will someone act like a major jerk, even though they're normally pretty pleasant? (Yes, Jessi... I mean, she even admits it. We also get a little testiness from Mary Anne.)

🗹Will the airplane seats have two seats, then five seats, then two more? (No airplanes, here. Maybe next time?)

Let's analyze the cover!

This one's pretty good. You can tell who everyone is supposed to be. 

RATING!

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a rousing Baby-Sitters Club adventure, and 1 being a book I'd send straight to Good Will, I give Starring The Baby-Sitters Club! a 3.98. I remember really enjoying it as a preteen, because anything to do with school plays was golden, but reading it now, it's not AS enjoyable. So many characters have issues, fears, or problems, and the book feels... stressful. Nobody seems very happy for most of it. In the end, though, it all comes together, and, like Peter Pan itself, has a happy ending.

For more BSC Super Special reviews, click here!

No comments: