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'Dream Street' Up Their Alley

March 02, 1989|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

HOBOKEN, N.J. — The show's production office is atop an aging seven-story building housing such other enterprises as the Hoboken Health Club, Choices in Cardiology and Cogent Information Systems, Inc.

Welcome to headquarters for the makers of NBC's "Dream Street," a coming dramatic series about the lives of young blue-collar men and women in this venerable, hard-nosed waterfront town of 42,500, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

The show's executive producers, Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, created ABC's Emmy Award-winning "thirtysomething," which inspects the travails of the upwardly mobile Cuisinart generation each week.

Their association with "Street" has caused some speculation that the new one-hour series, which is being filmed entirely in Hoboken, is but the working-class edition of ABC's venture.

Such talk ticks off Mark Rosner, who created and is producing "Dream Street," which will premiere at an as yet unspecified date this spring. Six episodes have been ordered thus far.

"The NBC people say stuff like 'thirtysomething' and I really hate that," said Rosner, a short, intense native of suburban Valley Stream, N.Y., who was head writer and co-producer of NBC's "Crime Story."

"I try to discourage them because it's unfair" to both shows, he added.

The series stars relative unknowns: Dale Midkiff and Peter Frechette as brothers and Thomas Calabro as Midkiff's best friend, who works for a local mobster doing "errands."

Rosner is a USC film school graduate whose friendship with executive producer Zwick goes back to their student days together at the American Film Institute. The genesis of the show, he said, "is that NBC wanted to do something young, blue-collar and sexy. That was how it was related to me. And the catch phrases of '501 jeans' and 'Bruce Springsteen' were bandied about."

A major difference between "thirtysomething" and "Dream Street," he submits, is that in his show, "because the characters are younger and because the neighborhood is much rougher, everyday life has many highs and lows. There are more life-and-death issues."

That was the case in the '50s classic "On the Waterfront," which also was filmed in Hoboken--once a gritty, ugly industrial and shipping town that later went into a period of decay.

Ironically, Hoboken now is enjoying a revival of sorts, yuppyized to some degree by the "thirtysomething" crowd lured away from Manhattan by lower rents, old tenement buildings ripe for renovation and things like country kitchens. The City is only a five-minute train ride away.

But more than enough of the old Hoboken remains to provide the working-class look for "Dream Street," which has only two standing sets--a warehouse and a bar. It films its home and apartment scenes inside the homes and apartments of local residents.

Unlike Los Angeles, where location filming is so common that some citizens would like to see it made a felony, the reaction of Hobokeners to "Street" on their streets seems to be mild puzzlement.

"Nobody quite knows who we are yet," said co-producer Brooke Kennedy, a New Yorker with a good Irish laugh. She previously worked in Miami for a year as production manager on "Miami Vice."

"They're not quite sure if we're just another film that came in," she said. "Nobody quite understands that we're theirs, just like 'Vice' was Miami's."

The proximity of Manhattan has allowed producer Rosner to cast the show from a large and ready-to-work pool of New York stage actors, as does CBS' New York-based "The Equalizer."

Although not all still call New York home, most of the 12 regulars in "Dream Street" either got their start on the New York stage or have done time there.

"It's like having a gun with 12 cylinders," Rosner said. "Anyone I go to can carry the weight."

His troupe is distinctive in several respects.

Two players--Charles Brown and Debra Mooney--were in Pulitzer Prize-winning plays in New York, Brown in "A Soldier's Play" and "Fences," and Mooney opposite Judd Hirsch in "Tally's Folly."

And Brown and Frechette currently are working two jobs--on Broadway by night, in Hoboken by day. Brown is in Neil Simon's hit "Rumors" and Frechette is in "Eastern Standard."

Brown, who plays a warehouse foreman and friend of Frechette's father in "Dream Street," hasn't worked much in television. He said he's been fortunate--"knock on wood"--to find regular work in theater.

"This is almost a whole new ballgame, and I'm finding that out rapidly," he said on a recent chilly morning.

"I'm used to playing (before) 1,200 people a night, and the first thing I keep finding I have to do here is curtail my projection, to pull it back and let the camera do it for me."

He stood near a space burner, trying to warm himself, inside an old, very cold, concrete-floor warehouse filled with fan belts, copper tubing, dust-covered generator engines and a crew assembled to film a tense scene with him and actors Frechette and Midkiff.

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