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‘Young and the Restless’ star focuses on new passion

When it comes to all the things you should know about Henderson resident Michael Damian, the fact that he spent two decades portraying singer Danny Romalotti on “The Young and the Restless” might not even crack the top five.

He’s at least partially responsible for the blizzard of royal-themed Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.

He performed one of the two official versions of the theme song from “Saved by the Bell.”

His father-in-law portrayed Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

In 1989, he sat atop the Billboard chart with his cover of “Rock On” from “Dream a Little Dream” — aka that impossible-to-believe-it-existed movie in which Jason Robards has his consciousness transferred into the body of Corey Feldman at his absolute Michael Jackson-iest, then tries to woo a teenage Meredith Salenger while Corey Haim portrays a character named Dinger.

Oh, and Liberace performed at Damian’s surprise 21st birthday party.

Hollywood to Henderson

“We were sort of looking for a place to maybe just make a little writing retreat,” Janeen Damian says. “We like to change our environment when we write.”

Friends had relocated to Las Vegas, and she and her husband liked what they saw when they visited. Six years ago, they began spending time in Henderson while they worked on their various projects. In 2016, the Damians made the move permanent.

“We just slowly started falling in love with it and spending more time in Vegas than in L.A. Now we’re full time in Vegas and no time in L.A.,” Michael says from Miami, during the publicity tour for “High Strung Free Dance.” As has been the case throughout most of their creative partnership, Michael directed the movie from a script they wrote together.

The story of an aspiring dancer (Juliet Doherty) and pianist (Harry Jarvis) who join a Broadway production with an acclaimed young choreographer (Thomas Doherty, Disney’s “Descendants” franchise), “High Strung Free Dance” opens Friday at AMC Town Square.

It’s a subject the couple know well.

Janeen started ballet lessons at age 2 and began her TV career as a “Solid Gold” dancer.

“We danced with everybody,” she recalls. “I mean we danced with Prince, George Michael. Everybody was on that show. … And then MTV came along, and I got to do all those amazing music videos” — including projects by Michael Jackson, Elton John, Lionel Richie and Cher.

In addition to his work on “The Young and the Restless,” Michael is a trained pianist, and he landed the lead role in the 1993 Broadway revival of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“We wanted to write that process, that journey,” he says of their new film. “It’s pretty exciting making it to the big stage, making it to opening night on Broadway.”

Las Vegas ties

The Damians may be relatively recent transplants, but their history in Las Vegas goes back decades.

Janeen’s parents met here in the late 1950s. Her mother, dancer Jobee Ayers, was performing — she worked with the likes of Jimmy Durante and Betty Grable — when a friend of actor James Best, who would achieve his greatest fame years later while chasing “them Duke boys” on TV screens, introduced them.

In 1998, Michael and Janeen were planning their wedding in France when they realized the marriage wouldn’t have been legally recognized in the U.S. So before those nuptials, they headed to the Graceland Wedding Chapel, where an Elvis impersonator walked Janeen down the aisle. “We thought it would be something kind of goofy so that it didn’t feel real,” she says, “but it actually ended up being really fabulous. … It was almost better than the real wedding.” When two of their friends were married at the chapel a couple of months back, they noticed the Damians’ wedding portrait still hung on the wall.

The most surreal tie-in, though, may have come in the form of one Wladziu Valentino Liberace.

The pianist and longtime Las Vegas headliner was a fan of “The Young and the Restless,” Michael says. “I came into the house on my 21st birthday — surprise party at the house in Beverly Hills — and there he is. Liberace’s playing my piano, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me at a huge party,” the 57-year-old Damian says, still sounding floored by the memory.

Soon after, the performer flew Michael, his parents and eight siblings to Las Vegas to see his show.

Shifting focus

In 1998, Michael left “The Young and the Restless,” where he’d been a series regular since 1981. He’s returned for various story arcs over the years, but an appearance in 2013 marks his most recent acting credit.

Not that that was the intent.

“We keep writing me into our different movies, then I keep getting fired,” Michael jokes, explaining that he ends up becoming too focused on the filmmaking to step away to act. “I can’t spend an hour in hair and makeup. It’s too intense on the set.”

He won’t rule out future acting roles, but he’s perfectly happy with the behind-the-scenes professional partnership he has with Janeen. Among their collaborations are “Marley & Me: The Puppy Years” and the 2011 Hallmark Channel movie “A Princess for Christmas,” which spawned two sequels.

“I love all the creativity, I love being more involved, and I love working with my wife,” Michael says.

“We have the greatest time writing. It’s such a journey on the set, shooting. It’s so much fun. We love it. We love the whole process.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 02-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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