Main > Series > Articles/Interviews > From Broadway to Hollywood Fame
The ongoing trials and triumphs of a talented group of young people
at the High School for Performing Arts in New York and the faculty members
who train them is the focus of "Fame." the new NBC--TV series based on the movie of the same name on Thursdays (8-9 p.m.). Featured cast players include: Lee Curreri as Bruno, Carol Mayo Jenkins as English teacher Miss Sherwood and Albert Hague as music teacher Mr. Shorofsky, P.R. Paul as Montgomery, Valerie Landsburg as Doris, Debbie Allen as dance instructor Lydia Grant and Erica Gimpel as Coco, Lori Singer as Julie, Gene Anthony Ray as Leroy and Carlo Imperato as Danny. In the cavernous MGM rehearsal hall, a group of dancers are going through their paces to the accompaniment of light jazz and an unceasing, "one-two-three-and..." With seeming ease the ensemble of lithe forms in multi-colored leotards, leg warmers and shoes glides across the wooden floor and gracefully executes a turn, while a male dancer in the center lifts one of the women high into the air. The "one-two-three" drone stops and the group reassembles as choreographer Debbie Allen steps in. "Let me show you," she says, and the dancers start again. The central male hoists Debbie up. She slips from his arms. For a breath-catching moment it seems she's going to drop to the floor, but she doesn't. He catches her at the last possible instant. It's all part of the action she has in mind. A few seconds later, Debbie instructs the troupe to continue their practice and walks to the side of the mirrored room, where she settles cross-legged on a tiny folding chair. She looks part sylph, part waif, a tiny figure in dusty rose whose smiling expression and cheerful greeting give no hint she has just completed a grueling dance. This rehearsal hall is where she has been spending most of her time since September, working on NBC's "Fame" series which began Jan. 4 -- and missing most of the hoopla surrounding the release of "Ragtime," in which she turns in a fine performance as the doomed mother of fictional character Coahouse Walker's baby. "I missed the press junket and all, but I'm in the film and working now, so I can't mind too much." She also missed out on parts in the upcoming "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Cat People" films. "I was mad. Ooh, I was mad!" she laughs. "But it doesn't matter, because 'Fame' is happening now and I love doing it -- and I think things work out in the way they're supposed to work out." The singer-dancer-choreographer-actress certainly seems to feel that way. Her bubbling enthusiasm about the new "weekly hour-long "Fame," which is based on the movie of the same title, is almost overwhelming. Debbie has been given dual assignments in the show, putting together at least two major numbers a week in addition to playing a regular role. "We start rehearsing on Tuesday and film, the following Monday. That's no time. It's a real challenge, and so far -- knock on wood -- I've been meeting that challenge." She grins, cocks her head and adds, "So they tell me." "But to conceive a whole number and see it done within a week -- that's an opportunity few choreographers get. It's exciting using all these wonderfully talented new kids, pulling things out of them," she says. "We're using all original music. There'll eventually be a cast album out through RCA Records." Speaking of the "Fame" budget. Debbie is glad to report. "We're not playing. I take everything to the max, until someone else pulls out the plug and so far they haven't. Last week, we did a musical version of 'Othello.' I told the whole story in the dance, and by the time I finished I had horsemen, torchbearers, a jester and all the characters." "They want a first-class show. We're giving something to television it's never had on a weekly basis. So far, nobody's seen it but us, but we feel real proud. "We do have some restrictions," she admits, "but we're dealing with them. It's unions, it's a lot of different things -what certain people can do on certain days, how much you have to pay to get a person to do just one little thing or how much you should pay for someone to do something fabulous. It gets very involved. There's no precedent for a show like this. We're in a new ballpark here, so all the unions get to fight all their battles on our ground and it's crazy sometimes. But we're dealing with it." Debbie came to Los Angeles after a string of award-winning, critically hailed off and on Broadway performances, including the musical version of Louis Armstrong's life, "Louis," revivals of "West Side Story" and "Guys and Dolls, " "Raisin" and "Purlie." She also has performed in the "Next Generation" mini-series sequel to "Roots" and has had numerous variety and comedy show guestings. She has choreographed acts for stars like Carol Channing. Now, with "Ragtime," "Fame" and NBC's upcoming "Alice at the Palace" musical special (a Joseph Papp production in which she plays the Red Queen to Meryl Streep's Alice), Debbie's recognition factor is on the rise. Meanwhile, she and her CBS Records executive husband of six years, Win Wilford, are working on opposite coasts for the first time, and will be at least until March, when the 15 segments of "Fame" which NBC has ordered are all completed. "We've never been separated this much, and we're waiting to see what happens," she says. "The good thing is we're both busy -- but on the weekends, it's murder." "No, I haven't had to worry about adjusting to a new city, because I haven't had time to get out much. The inside of that bathtub, honey -- I see that a lot," she laughs, "soaking these bones. I usually get up at about 5, get here at 7 and stay until about 9 or 10 at night." A native of Houston, daughter of a dentist father and museum director mother, Debbie credits her mother with "seeing to my development, my education and my exposure -- and seeing to it I'd have an idea of myself in this world. And following her lead, I've always tried to keep developing, to keep taking the next step further. Lately, I've been studying a lot of books about directing, and Milos Foreman, (director of "Ragtime") told me I could come to his class at Columbia University." She's proud to note the success of her siblings. Her sister is in the cast of Michael Bennett's new "Dream Girl" musical. One brother is a jazz musician and the other is a freshman at the University of Texas -- "He's going to be the mastermind of business," she says. As for herself, besides "Fame," she's working on creating a musical of her own from a folk story she has optioned. "I might try to get it on television instead of the stage, because I think television needs some things like that. Remember the great annual specials like 'Peter Pan'? TV specials with a book, not just variety shows. And I feel like now, with 'Fame,' TV is accessible to me." Hopefully.
This interview/article provided by Timothy Newton.