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Young New Edition fans audition for BET biopic

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Nathaniel Richardson stretched before his audition.
Nathaniel Richardson stretched before his audition.(The Boston Globe)

Sunny days, everybody loves them, but would-be stars that could stand the rain were out in force Saturday morning. At Boston Casting in Allston, BET network hoped to find the next Michael Bivins or Ricky Bell among the area's young actors, singers, and dancers for its upcoming miniseries on the Boston-bred boy band New Edition.

"They're kinda like the Justin Bieber of Boston," said Mary Anne Fox, who found out about the casting call through the Boston Casting mailing list. A seasoned fan of the group since its 1980s heyday, she shared it with her son Aaron Gray, 16, who had to do a little homework.

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"I watched some shows," he said. "I watched a documentary about them a couple months ago, just how they formed, stuff like that."

Created in 1978 with Roxbury kids Bivins, Bell, and Bobby Brown, the group was deemed by a local producer to be the "new edition" of the Jackson 5. With the additions of Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie DeVoe, the group laid the foundation for the likes of New Kids on the Block and 'N Sync, even after Brown's departure in 1985.

"I'd want Ronnie or Bobby," Gray said of whom he'd want to play in the miniseries. "I'm probably a little vertically challenged, but we'll work with it." His mom laughed, shaking her head.

"I'm not looking for Bobby," she said.

As it turned out, not many of the 10- to 17-year-olds waiting for the 10 a.m. audition — the time for 18- to 25-year-olds was later — were as enamored with the band as their parents were. Cecily Walton was asked if she had a special place in her heart for the quintet, but she was beaten to her "yes" by 12-year-old son Elijah's eye roll. Nevertheless, after learning about the audition, Elijah said he took extra voice lessons to get it just right.

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"I actually learned about it Wednesday, so I didn't have that much time," he said. "I would just listen to songs over and over again."

Boston Casting founder Angela Peri, meanwhile, coordinated the chaos of cameras and clipboards. Speaking earlier by phone, Peri said it was important to both her and BET that at least some of the project's talent come from New Edition's hometown. Those who auditioned would have to deliver a one-minute monologue, sing a New Edition song, dance, or do all three.

"Boston kids have an edge," she said. "We're not as brash as New York, we're not fake like LA. Boston people are real, and that's what we're gonna get."

Though actually from Connecticut, 9-year-old Marcus Duffus came with an edge of his own. Asked about his own hopes for the audition, he indicated a script he brought — prepared by his mom — that he would deliver. The character: Bobby Brown.

"I'm gonna know it when I see it," Peri said. "A kid that can really just kick it, who walks in the room and all the lights go on."

That electric star power, Fox recalled, was part of what made the New Edition so revolutionary in the first place.

"When they were around, everyone was just really proud that they were local," she said. "It changed the whole area, and influenced what kids thought they could be. It's something we're really proud of."

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Melisa Pinkney and son Marcus Duffus as they wait for his turn.
Melisa Pinkney and son Marcus Duffus as they wait for his turn.(The Boston Globe)
Mason Cardwell and others waited for their turn to audition.
Mason Cardwell and others waited for their turn to audition.(The Boston Globe)
A BET film crew interviewed attendees at the open casting call.
A BET film crew interviewed attendees at the open casting call.(The Boston Globe)

Joe Incollingo can be reached at Joe.Incollingo@globe.com.