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by Mary Ann Bachemin

Last year something new happened to television. A One-of-a-kind weekly series burst upon the screen with all the energy and excitement of a full-scale motion picture production. That show is MGM Television's "Fame." Never before has there been a television series like it and from all indications there probably never will be another ... "Fame's" one tough act to follow!

Come backstage with 'TEEN as we talk with the cast of this successful series and get to know the actors who do more than play roles ... they live them!

Describing "Fame" is no easy task. It's a multi-dimensional series - a drama, a musical and a comedy all rolled into one. It's the story of the creative arts, of young and talented hopefuls seeking a place in the performing arts, of teachers who work diligently to help their students' dreams come true, who share the joy of achievement and the frustration of failure with their students.

Based on the full-blown movie musical "Fame," the weekly series revolves around the goings on at the School of Performing Arts where the password is "talent" and the byword, "dedication."

"The show is pure entertainment," says Carlo Imperato, who portrays the wise-cracking Danny Amatullo. "It's about New York kids, the kind of kids you could easily know. And they're dealing with true-to-life situations that really do happen in such schools.

"People of all ages can relate to the show," he continues. "I've been approached on the street by kids who call be 'Danny' as well as old ladies who pinch my cheek and tell me they like the show."

Although Carlo is enjoying the recognition that goes along with being connected with the series, he doesn't like being confused with his character, Danny.

"I am not Danny Amatullo," he emphasized. "I am not a comedian, never have been and don't ever want to be. But when the producer says he wants me to play a comic, I do it gladly because I am an actor."

Evidently, being an actor means a lot to Carlo. At only 13 years of age, he performed in the Broadway show "The Runaways" and at the time caught the eye of an entertainment manager who took him under his wing. Since that time, Carlo has appeared in numerous commercials as well as theatrical and television productions.

"For me, live theater is what acting is all about," he admits. "In television, if you're doing a scene and you mess up, it's cut and you do it again until you get it right. But on the stage, you're out in front of a live audience every night. You've really got to work hard to get it right the first time because you don't get a second or third chance to make it good."

Since capturing the role of Danny, life has changed a great deal for Carlo. One major adjustment he's had to make is a cross-country move from his home in the Bronx to Los Angeles where the majority of the show's filming is done.

I will never move to Los Angeles," declared Carlo. "I work in L.A. and spend most of my time here, but I live in the Bronx. It's where my family, friends, girlfriend and dog are. As soon as I get time off from the show, I go home. Lately, that hasn't been too often since the series takes up most of my time. But I've learned to make the best of it."

 

Dedication seems to be the common thread which holds this tight-knit cast of distinctive talents together. Lori Singer, who portrays the shy, serious musician, Julie Miller, was literally born into the world of music. The daughter of famed conductor Jacques Singer, Lori was quick to follow in her father's footsteps. At 12, she performed as a cello soloist with the Oregon Symphony and shortly after her 13th birthday, she was awarded a scholarship to the Julliard School of Music in New York.

In addition to her music, Lori has modeled for several women's magazines and broadened her studies to include drama and dance classes. But right now, she says her primary goal is to gain recognition as an actress and she hopes "Fame" will allow her to do just that.

 

Another of the show's young stars who displays a unique combination of talent and good looks is Erica Gimpel. She portrays the enthusiastic, success-oriented Coco Hernandez. For almost as long as she can remember, Erica has been dedicated to the theater. As a child, she would tour with her mother in stage productions that took them through Australia and Portugal as well as most of the United States.

Like Coco, Erica attended New York's High School for the Performing Arts where casting directors signed her for the role in "Fame." Although devoted to dance, drama and music, Erica admits that roller skating is about the only temptation that can lure her away from her craft temporarily.

 

Apparently, free time is a much sought-after commodity with most of the cast. According to Lee Curreri, who plays the idealistic young composer and musician Bruno Martelli, "My life at the moment consists almost entirely of work, though I do get a chance to bathe every now and then.

My schedule can get pretty hectic," he explains. "Take today, for instance. I had to be here at the studio at 6:45 a.m. and I probably won't finish up until 7 this evening."

Like most of the cast, Lee is a native New Yorker transplanted in Los Angeles as a result of the show. ALthough approximately four days of shooting each season is done in the Big Apple, the remainder (16 episodes in all) is done in Los Angeles.

"It takes seven days to shoot an episode," says Lee. "And those days are usually long ones."

Like his character, Lee is also a composer and musician as well as a vocalist and actor. At the moment, what spare time he can muster up is usually spent working on a demo tape which he hopes will one day help him secure a recording contract.

"I put together a little recording studio in my room," he says. "When I'm off, I can literally sit in there for hours and hours and record."

Unlike many of his peers, Lee never has found himself at a loss in terms of plotting out his future. Urged to take up the piano at an early age, he quickly expanded his interests to include acting and dance as well as music. And as fate and a great deal of talent would have it, those years of study have really paid off.

When they told me I got the part in the movie "Fame," I couldn't believe it," Lee reveals. "It's uncanny how much Bruno and I have in common. He's a very accurate description of my when I was younger. I began to think maybe the producer was watching me, spying on me, even tapping my phone in order to make Bruno amd me alike," he laughs.

While Lee brought Bruno to life in the musical "Fame," he's even more involved in the television series since he's allowed to compose his own music.

They've give me a great deal of artistic freedom," he says. "I like what I'm doing and what I'm becoming as a result of it."

 

Indeed, artistic freedom is given to almost every major character in the show. But probably the person with the most input in the series is Debbie Allen, who portrays the iron-willed dance instructor, Lydia Grant. Off-camera, Debbie is also the real-life dance instructor to the principals of the show and the company of 15 stock dancers. In addition, she choreographs all the original dance production numbers for the series and performs her own vocals to the original music heard on "Fame."

"In the movie, my part consisted of only two lines," states Debbie. "So I was thrilled when I was asked to play Lydia Grant in the television series.

"Still, I wanted to do more," she continues. "So I asked the producer if I could be responsible for some of the choreography for the show and as luck would have it, I'm now responsible for all of it!"

Actually, luck has very little to do with Debbie's part in "Fame." Prior to her acquiring the role, Debbie accumulated a great many show-stopping stage, screen and television credits.

"The best advice I can give a young person interested in pursuing a career in dance is to go wherever you can to get the best professional training available in your community," she says. "Unfortunately, most cities don't have schools of the performing arts, but they do have dance studios as well as YMCAs, local schools and recreation departments that offer a wide variety of dance classes."

 

While some young people have to study dance for years and years, others are born with what can be called a "natural" talent. Such is the case with Gene Anthony Ray, the show's street-smart, explosive dancer, Leroy Johnson.

Without formal training prior to his role in the movie "Fame," Gene is clearly a "natural" talent in every sense of the word. A true discovery, he simply bowled everyone ever when students of New York's High School for the Performing Arts were asked to audition for the motion picture. Since then, Gene has emerged as an impressive actor, having created the character of Leroy from his own experience and concepts.

Although a shy and extremely quiet person off-camera, Gene admits that he "comes to life" when dancing. As a child, he recalls improvising a dance number at the slightest invitation and then retreating immediately to the sidelines.

"One thing I learned in dancing is that an encore is as important as your original performance," says Gene. "That's why I like the idea of recreating the Leroy role for television. It's like putting on blue jeans and a comfortable pair of shows ... you know it fits."

 

Unlike Gene's quick-start into acting, Valerie Landsburg, who portrays the character Doris Schwartz, actually got into show business by getting out of it first.

Although she grew up in Hollywood's entertainment community and confesses that the only class she seriously attended at Beverly Hills High was drama, by the time she entered college her thirst for the bright lights gave way to a serious interest in psychology. Yet, when Valerie received a call to appear in the film "Thank God It's Friday," she put her psychology books into storage and has been working ever since.

 

Says Carol Mayo Jenkins, who plays the show's devoted English teacher, Barbara Sherwood*, "The kids in the cast are extraordinary. They're wonderful people to work with and possess an unbelieveable amount of talent."

Ms. Jenkins was once an instructor of Shakespeare and has performed a noteworthy succession of roles ranging from the classics to contemporary drama.

"In my opinion, "Fame" is quite close to live theater," she says. "There is so much excitement and energy evident during the production of this show that every day on the set is like opening night."


Albert Hague, the show's intelligent yet eccentric Professor Shorofsky, is quick to agree with Ms. Jenkins as to the inherent vitality and exuberance of the show. Yet, he says he never would have thought of auditioning for "Fame."

"Honestly, I was quite surprised when I was asked to audition for the role in the motion picture," he admits. "But it began to make sense to me when I realized that the show's producers were looking for someone who was a composer, was a teacher and was European. In essense, that was me."

The only thing Mr. Hague lacked when he auditioned was a beard, which he agreed to grow once he got the part. As it turns out, the beard, he says, makes him even more recognizable in public.

"I still can't get over the recognition an actor gets as the result of a television role. It's absolutely incomparable to anything I've ever experienced," he admits. "I certainly don't mind all the attention. For one thing, it gets me better tables in restaurants."

In fact, Mr. Hague doesn't even mind being compared or confused with Professor Shorofsky. He says that they both like to kid around and tell corny jokes, but when it comes right down to it, both are very commited artists.

Clearly, commitment, talent and a never-ending dedication are what it takes to hit the Big Time. Like the characters they portray, each cast member is pursuing a dream, working toward a goal. Their aim ... FAME!

 

* Carol Mayo Jenkin's character name on Fame was not Barbara but rather Elizabeth.

 

Copyright 'TEEN, 1982

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