'Dream Street' Up Their Alley

Times Staff Writer

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.

It truly is glamorous, this TV business, laughed Frechette, who plays the oldest brother in a working-class family, his character a perpetual loser always seeking the easy dollar.

The actor, whose stage credits range from Chekhov to a recent off-Broadway revival of the musical "Flora, the Red Menance," calls Los Angeles home now. He moved there in 1981 from New York when he landed a lead role in the film sequel to "Grease."

Now he sublets a New York apartment.

Mooney, who plays Frechette's mother, calls the series akin to "three dreams come true--because you have good people, good scripts and it's here."

Like many actors who began here, Mooney once went West. Unlike many such actors, she did not stay there and amuse herself by denouncing Hollywood and generally being what they call a patriotic New Yorker.

No, she sublet her Los Angeles apartment and moved back to New York in 1979 for Neil Simon's "Chapter Two" on Broadway. She later was in the female version of his "The Odd Couple" that co-starred Sally Struthers.

"I haven't been tempted to move back," she said in a phone interview. But she won't take a New York stage job while working "Dream Street."

"I have forsaken the poor old theater for this," Mooney mock-sighed. "I didn't want to get so overburdened that I thought I couldn't do justice to either thing."

Consider, now, how the fates have treated Jo Anderson, a young actress cast as a divorced single mother, a teacher who proves sweet on Frechette's younger brother in "Dream Street.

Anderson, who studied in New York at the Actors Studio and with Tony Award-winning actor Michael Moriarty, actually lived in Hoboken for five years.

"But I went out to California two years ago because I was not getting any work that could pay me enough to live on," she said. "I was tiring of the starving-artist gig."

When she auditioned for "Dream Street" last year, she said, the producers said the show would be filmed in Hoboken. "I said, 'Oh, man, I hope I get this job.' "

So now, although it won't be permanent, she is living in a hamlet settled by the Dutch early in the 17th Century and known to them by the Indian name of Hobocan Hackingh, meaning "land of the tobacco pipe."

The place is now called Hoboken.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
57°