New York City is home to some of the country's best theatre, dance and art, so it's no surprise that one of the best places for young people to get training in these disciplines is a longtime Upper West Side institution: Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. In 1936, a special high school for music and art was established for the most gifted and talented of students attending New York City public schools to be able to study art and music alongside their regular education. A similar performing arts school was created in 1948 that offered programs in dance, music and drama, and in 1961, the two schools became one organization with plans to combine into one building as well. That plan was finally enacted in 1984 when the schools moved into a brand-new state-of-the-art facility at Lincoln Center where they remain today.
If reading about LaGuardia High is reminding you of the successful film, television and stage musical series "Fame," you're not wrong; the series follows a group of students studying at the fictional "New York City High School for the Performing Arts," based heavily on LaGuardia High School. In fact, it is fairly common to see LaGuardia referred to as "the 'Fame' school."
The training made available to NYC teenagers at LaGuardia was and is virtually unparalleled, and they have an impressive list of notable alumni to show for it. We're taking a look at 10 of their alumni who have gone on to have Broadway careers. They span both sides of the curtain, from performers to writers and directors. You'll probably recognize every name, but you may not have known that they all went to the same legendary high school!
Al Pacino is one of our biggest stars; he has two Tony Awards, an Academy Award, four Golden Globes and two Primetime Emmys. It should come as no shock that he received his earliest performance training at LaGuardia. Just about 10 years after finishing up high school, he was on Broadway in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?, for which he earned his first Tony Award. He went on to make such legendary films as "The Godfather," "Scarface" and "Glengarry Glen Ross." He was most recently on Broadway in a revival of Glengarry Glen Ross though on stage he played the role of Shelly Levene, and he returns to Broadway in David Mamet's China Doll. Priscilla Lopez
Priscilla Lopez is probably most famous for creating the role of Morales in A Chorus Line, and specifically for singing "Nothing," a song that pulls heavily from her own experiences at LaGuardia High School. As Lopez told Seth Rudetsky last year, she really did tell an acting teacher that she felt nothing during an acting exercise and her classmates really did turn on her, but in real life she didn't end up transferring to a different school. She found what she was good at and started earning praise from both her teachers and classmates. She went on to enjoy a healthy Broadway career, earning a Tony nomination for her performance in A Chorus Line and winning one for A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine. Most recently, she appeared in In the Heights and Pippin. Martin Charnin
Martin Charnin started his Broadway career after LaGuardia as a performer; he made his Broadway debut as "Big Deal" in the original company of West Side Story, a role he would go on to play over 1,000 times on Broadway as well as on the road. He also worked as a lyricist and director on several Off-Broadway revues, roles that became the focus of his later career on Broadway. He made his Broadway debut as a lyricist in 1963 with Hot Spot, though he's probably best known for writing the lyrics and directing the original production of 1977's super-hit Annie. He continues to direct new productions of the show today.
Speaking of performers-turned-directors, Lonny Price also went to LaGuardia High School. After graduating, Price become somewhat of a wunderkind, making his Broadway debut just four years later. He followed that up by originating the role of Charley Kringas in Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along. He eventually came to focus on a career as a director, making his Broadway directorial (and writing) debut in 1994 with Joan Rivers' Sally Marr...and Her Escorts. More recently, he has become well known for his successful concert productions of musicals, including the New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd, Candide, Passion, Camelot and Company. On Broadway, he wrote, directed and starred in A Class Act and, most recently, directed Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. Sarah Paulson
After some early stage credits (like Talking Pictures at the Signature Theatre), Sarah Paulson found success on television. She's appeared on "Jack & Jill," "Deadwood," "Nip/Tuck" and "American Horror Story." in addition to movies like "Down with Love," "What Women Want" and "Serenity." She made her Broadway debut in 2005, playing Laura Wingfield opposite Jessica Lange's Amanda in The Glass Menagerie. In 2010, she appeared opposite Linda Lavin in Donald Margulies' Collected Stories. Currently, she's slated to appear as prosecutor Marcia Clark in Ryan Murphy's "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson" in addition to returning for the fifth season of "American Horror Story." Jonathan Tunick
As one of the industry's most prolific and successful orchestrators, musical directors and composers, Jonathan Tunick is one of only 12 people to have an EGOT, having won Tony Awards, Oscars, Emmy Awards and Grammy Awards. He's most active on Broadway, and associated heavily with the work of Stephen Sondheim. He began orchestrating Sondheim's scores in 1970 with the original production of Company, going on to orchestrate Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Into the Woods, Passion and The Frogs. Hardly a season goes by without his work appearing on the Great White Way, and this one is no exception; his work is also heard from the orchestra pit of Dames At Sea. Julia Murney
After high school at LaGuardia, Julia Murney became so popular and well-known for her Broadway charity appearances, that many were surprised to learn she had not yet appeared on Broadway. She created the role of Queenie in the 2000 Off-Broadway premiere of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, as well as the role of Felicia in A Class Act, though she did not continue with the latter production when it transferred to Broadway. She made her Broadway debut in 2005 in Lennon, later donning the green makeup to become Elphaba in Wicked. More recently, Murney has appeared Off-Broadway at the York in Closer Than Ever and at St. Louis's MUNY in Shrek, where she played Princess Fiona. She also performs with orchestras frequently. Her concert "The Wizard and I: The Musical Journey of Stephen Schwartz," was recently presented in Omaha, NE. Charles Busch
Another LaGuardia graduate that has enjoyed careers in several different roles, Charles Busch is most famous for his string of campy comedic plays, including The Divine Sister, The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, all of which he both wrote and starred in. He made his Broadway debut as a playwright in 2000 with The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Just a few years later he was again on Broadway, contributing the book to 2003's Taboo. He still frequently appears in venues all over the country in his solos acts, including one titled That Girl/That Boy, which played 54 Below in July 2015. Hal Linden
Hal Linden is one of LaGuardia's most legendary alumni; his best-known role is the title character in TV's "Barney Miller," but Broadway audiences will know him from his performances in Ilya Darling, The Pajama Game, Cabaret, The Gathering and The Rothschilds, for which he earned a 1971 Tony Award. He has continued acting, primarily on stage now. In February 2015, he will appear as "Yevgeny Zunser" in The Twenty-seventh Man at The Old Globe in San Diego. Ellen Barkin
After attending LaGuardia High School, Ellen Barkin attended Hunter College, majoring in both drama and history. Though at one time she planned to teach ancient history, Barkin ended up becoming an actress, and quite a successful one at that. She's best known for her film work, having appeared in "The Big Easy," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Sea of Love" and "Switch," to name a few. In 20011, she made her Broadway debut as Dr. Emma Brookner in The Normal Heart, a performance that earned her a Tony Award. Most recently, she portrayed "Dani Kirschenbloom" on TV's "Happyish," and has completed filming for two films currently in post-production, "Animal Kingdom" and "Hands of Stone." An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the High School of Music and Art and the School of Performing Arts combined into one building in 1961. Though they did indeed become one organization in 1961, they did not share the Lincoln Center space until 1984. We apologize for the error.
(Logan Culwell is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwell.com.)