Tori Spelling is a supernova in the constellation of pop stars. Which is why I jumped at a chance to cover her theatrical debut in Maybe Baby, It‘s You at the Coronet Theater.

I’ve seen every episode of Beverly Hills 90210 twice, but my obsession with Tori Spelling predates her 90210 stardom. With shows like Charlie‘s Angels and The Love Boat dominating television in the mid-1970s, her dad, producer Aaron Spelling, was a larger presence during my adolescence than my own father, who one day left to buy cigarettes and never came back. Aaron Spelling is my fantasy dad.

Tori first existed for me as an offshoot of her mother Candy’s extravagant spending. Aaron Spelling had demolished an existing mansion in order to put up a bigger mansion. Roughly the size of a football field, the house, demurely called The Manor and located on the old Bing Crosby estate, remains a glittering symbol of celebrity excess with three kitchens, a bowling alley, an eight-car garage and an entire room just for gift wrapping. During the completion of The Manor, Tori began appearing as guest star on her father‘s TV shows. Vega$, Fantasy Island and T.J. Hooker depict Tori as a gawky, dark-haired, slightly pop-eyed preadolescent. A decade older than the preteen star, I envied her and her happy family. Then I grew up, went to college and stopped thinking about Tori Spelling.

Until years later, when watching 90210 became ritualized behavior among my semiotically inclined grad-student peers. We would gather every Wednesday, relishing Tori’s sometimes stilted line readings and awkward gestures. Some plots seemed lifted straight from Beach Boys songs. It was the consensus of our group that the majority of the scripts had been written by gay men who had always wanted to be teenage girls. We loved Tori.

Still a little starstruck, I‘m eager to welcome Tori into the legit theater fold, eager to check out a rehearsal for Maybe Baby.

With homeless people lining the street outside the Coronet, the inside is awash in food and beverages. On the bottom level, a small army of caterers sets up huge platters of salad, chicken and pecan pie. More provisions can be found upstairs, where Spelling’s Armani-clad manager and agent suspiciously eye off-the-rack deli platters between calls on their cell phones. The more casually dressed female production assistants munch on cubed cheese, discuss their former careers as cheerleaders and repeatedly assure me that Tori will arrive “any minute.” Anticipation grows with repeated whispers of “Tori‘s running late.”

At last, she sweeps into the room — an old-fashioned, movie star–type entrance that sets the theater abuzz. Attired in a red baseball jersey–cum–Chinese blouse, Tori has a dog under one arm and an unidentified male companion on the other. Mimi, Spelling’s goggle-eyed pug, all gussied up in fake, oversize Jackie O pearls, romps through the theater during the rehearsal, and director Peter Webber pauses to compliment her necklace.

At one point, Tori stands alone onstage, picking fluff off her dark lowrider blue jeans. I don‘t know why, but that image strikes me as a bit sad.

As the Armani suits hover in the background, Tori takes a break from rehearsal and meets with me to chat about the play. I inquire about her recent theatergoing experiences. Spelling draws a blank before piping in: “I think it might have been Fame.” Much more at ease discussing stardom, she seems to enjoy her celebrity and says she likes her fans: “They’re great, except when they confuse the person with the character.”

Yes, that must be frustrating.

On opening night, the audience buzzes awaiting the arrival of Aaron and Candy. Though necks can be heard snapping as patrons strain for a glimpse of the couple, Tori‘s parents seem to be hiding, perhaps aware that their presence might detract from their daughter’s big moment.

At curtain call, Tori receives a standing ovation, having drawn an audience of non-theatergoers into the intimate West Hollywood venue, her celebrity robustly celebrated as art. Fluff sticks to Tori Spelling.

Maybe Baby, It‘s You is being performed at Upstairs at the Coronet, 368 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood, through April 27. Call (310) 657-7377.

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