The classic story of a sheltered 17-year-old girl appropriately nicknamed “Baby” who finds unlikely love with a smooth dance instructor at a Catskill Mountain resort called Kellerman’s in the summer of 1963. The 2014-2015 tour of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story Onstage comes to the Segerstrom Hall here in Orange County and Jesse Liebman plays the character of Neil Kellerman.
Jesse is thrilled to be on his first US National Tour. After graduating from Princeton University with a degree in Classics, Jesse attended The New Actors Workshop conservatory in NYC, where he studied with Mike Nichols and George Morrison. On film, Jesse got his break in the Marc Lawrence comedy “Did You Hear About The Morgans?,” in which he co-starred with Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Elisabeth Moss. Jesse is also a lead on the HBO/Cinemax series “The Girl’s Guide To Depravity.”
I recently had the chance to speak with him, during his very busy tour schedule.
Were you a fan of the movie before going out for the role?
I remember my older brother telling me he saw it and I wasn’t allowed to see it — that impacted me and I wanted to know what everyone was talking about. But recently when I was offered the role of Neil I made the conscious decision not to watch the movie again — I was able to find my own connection to the material.
What are some of the similarities and differences between your character Neil and the movie character Neil?
In the movie he was very snobby and a little creepy. But in my version Neil is likeable, he tries hard, he wants to honor his family.
I’m always interested in the audition process — what was it like for you? Was there anything in particular that you did in the room that won you the role?
I did feel that I had a unique sense of the role — in one scene I extended my arm and almost sheltered Baby — that instinct was trying to infantilize her and protect her because that’s what a man does — I think that gesture made a difference.
What’s the one thing you want the audience to walk away with after seeing your show?
I think everyone is nostalgic for the era this music ushered in. It was a simpler time — we were filled with high-minded ideals, girls were coming of age through music and dancing became sexually liberating. Baby is confronted with a world that bursts her protective bubble wide open and that’s exciting to watch. The dancers are phenomenal and the music and live singing transports you.
What’s next for you?
Well, pilot season is starting in NY — auditions and more auditions. I will head right back to look for work.
Ah, the life of an actor. Jesse lives in Brooklyn with his beautiful wife, Kimiye Corwin, and they just welcomed a beautiful baby girl. For more information on Jesse please visit www.jesseliebmanactor.com.
The show will be playing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts now through February 15th. For more information please call 714-556-2787 or visit www.scfta.org for tickets.
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.