The child actor has a tough road. For every one who emerges on the other side of adolescence to either keep building an adult résumé (Jodie Foster) or transfer to another successful public career (indie rock star Jenny Lewis, diplomat Shirley Temple Black), there are so many others who, now unrecognized, chug along with the occasional guest spot on a primetime drama or spiral into tabloid fodder or worse. Recalling the fate of the Coreys (Haim, RIP; and Feldman, WTF) or all the kids on Diff’rent Strokes, I’m not surprised at the strange joy/relief that comes over me when a friend mentions that Lucy Deakins (The Boy Who Could Fly, The Great Outdoors) is now a lawyer in Denver.
That same feeling overtook me when some “where are they now?” Googling after a Netflix viewing of 1989’s Teen Witch revealed that Mandy Ingber, who played the well-hatted Polly in that film and whom Cheers viewers will remember as Carla’s daughter-in-law, Annie Tortelli, is now a celebrity yoga instructor. Her latest book, Yogalosophy for Inner Strength: 12 Weeks to Heal Your Heart and Embrace Joy, has a Jennifer Aniston testimonial on the cover, and the author will be in Portland to teach a guest class at Yoga Pearl on June 24, followed by a book signing and meet-and-greet.
“It’s neat that I have something else,” Ingber tells me in a phone interview. Her books (the first, Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover, came out in 2013) describe an early adulthood of dealing with shifting career opportunities and a violent assault before she fell into a job at a spin studio and suddenly found herself LA’s “most celebrated spinning teacher.”
“I remember when I found teaching,” she says. “I didn’t even know that was a part of my character, my human character, to help others, to be responsible to others, and that really is a huge part of me. As an actor it just wasn’t quite as fulfilled, and there’s this whole other aspect of myself that I needed to fulfill. I was amazed when I found another calling.”
With her celebrity client list (in addition to Aniston, she’s worked with Ricki Lake, Helen Hunt, and many others), those callings sometimes overlap. “Working with famous actors, I don’t feel uncomfortable with that," she says. “It’s in my wheelhouse.” Ingber adds that teaching and performing have a lot in common: “I tend to structure a class in a similar way to how I would structure a scene in my mind: coming from a certain place, going somewhere, having an objective, creating an arc, just being present in the moment with people—and playing.”
Playing and performing certainly merged in Ingber’s most memorable role. For the most part, aside from some inspired adult casting (The Bob Newhart Show’s Marcia Wallace, a post-Bewitched Dick Sargent) and timely Punky Brewster and Rob Lowe name drops, Teen Witch is a formulaic makeover movie, with the minor twist that the lead character, Louise (Robyn Lively), actually makes herself over thanks to some newfound reincarnated witch powers that kick in on her 16th birthday. For example, she makes a bad date simply disappear. (The bad date is handsy nerd who’s a dead ringer for J. J. Abrams—I had to explain to my 7-year-old daughter that the film was set before nerd chic was a thing, and thus someone who looked like the director of The Force Awakens would have been shunned in the world of Teen Witch.)
Then Louise glams up her looks while singing “I Want to Be the Most Popular Girl,” takes revenge on a snipey teacher, and attracts the attention of the high school quarterback (whose name, of course, is Brad). There’s also the requisite girls’ locker room scene before lessons are dispensed about the importance of friendship and believing in yourself. The film’s saving grace (and the reason it’s a cult classic) is the spell Louise casts on her best friend, Polly, played by Ingber, to imbue her with the confidence and vocal stylings to engage a boy she has a crush on in a rap battle—and win.
While some creators of millennial clickbait have called the rap battle, to the song “Top That” by the Michael Terry Rappers, “famously terrible," “the worst song of all time,” and something that “will make you embarrassed to be an American," the surreal superlative scene is a moment of unforgettable ’80s movie magic. It’s been re-created by Alia Shakwat and Jack Antonoff, not to mention by countless teenage girls at slumber parties. The morning before I spoke with Ingber, she had gamely lip-synced it with the host of a local morning show in Los Angeles who had outed herself as a huge Teen Witch fan, explaining that she and her friends in college considered “Top That” to be “their song.”
The Yogalosophy books offers playlists to accompany the routines and other tasks, from Joan Armatrading to the Beastie Boys to Sia. (There are also loads of recipes and a suggestion that adults spend more time playing capture the flag—yes!) Ingber doesn’t include her own legendary cut, but she says that doesn’t mean it can’t soundtrack a yoga routine.
“I think you could probably do anything to ‘Top That.’”