Rochester is definitely a town with a longstanding music and theater culture. With numerous area schools offering high-level music and theater programs, and many community-theater groups, it has been a training ground for a surprising number of actors who have gone on to fame on Broadway and in Hollywood.
We've produced some actors who went on to become familiar faces on TV series. In the 1960's and 1970's, Pete Duel, who graduated from Penfield High School as Peter Deuel, and Peter Breck, who moved here with his stepfather as a young man, played young heartthrobs in "Alias Smith and Jones" and "The Big Valley," respectively. University of Rochester graduate Robert Forster also had a 1970's series of his own, "Nakia," and still makes TV guest appearances ("Heroes," "Breaking Bad"), but he is probably best-known for the movies "Medium Cool," "Jackie Brown" (for which he received an Oscar nomination), and "The Descendants". Mimi Kennedy, born Mary Claire Kennedy, has traveled from playing in Agatha Christie's "The Spiderweb" for Rochester Community Players in the 60's to playing two memorable mothers: the hippie mother on the sitcom "Dharma & Greg" and the wealthy, Francophobic mother-in-law-to-be in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."
Two younger performers who achieved TV fame are Canandaigua-born Michael Park, who won two Emmys during his 12-year run as Jack Snyder on "As the World Turns" (he also appeared in the recent live NBC broadcast of "The Sound of Music") and Brighton High School graduate Kristen Wiig, who spent several years on "Saturday Night Live" and transitioned successfully into movies with "Bridesmaids" and "Anchorman 2."
The most famous Rochester-born actor to achieve fame as an actor is undoubtedly the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was born in Fairport and whose talent was recognized in high school (he also performed at Shipping Dock Theatre while a student). Hoffman's tragically truncated career included an Oscar win in 2003 for "Capote" as well as additional Oscar nods for "Doubt," "Charlie Wilson's War," and "The Master," and Tony nods for work in plays by Sam Shepard and Arthur Miller. Hoffman was a respected theater director as well, and made several trips back to Fairport High School during his career to talk to theater students.
Many local performers may not quite be Broadway stars, but are highly respected in the Broadway community and work steadily. John Bolton, who played Pippin for the Rochester Community Players in 1986, has appeared in such hit musicals as "Titanic," "Spamalot," "Curtains," and "A Christmas Story," as well on TV's "All My Children." He appeared in Geva productions of "1776" and "The Music Man."
Taye Diggs, one of the School of the Arts' most famous graduates, was in the original production of "Rent" (and also in the movie adaptation), as well as the movie "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and the TV series "Private Practice." Nicolette Hart appeared in many local productions (including Blackfriars' "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and Downstairs Cabaret's "Always...Patsy Cline") and on Broadway in "Rent" and "Legally Blonde"; she also toured as one of Bette Midler's Harlettes. Happily, she is still sometimes seen in Rochester, recently performing at Downstairs Cabaret ("City Lights," "Take Me Home") and at Geva ("A Chorus Line," "Company").
Donna Lynne Champlin starred in "42nd Street" at her alma mater, Greece Arcadia High School, and appeared in the Blackfriars two-character musical "Goblin Market" while a student. Since then she has become a dependable presence in Broadway plays and musicals, including Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jeeves," in which she made her Broadway debut, "Hollywood Arms" (the Carol Burnett play directed by Hal Prince), the recent revival of "Sweeney Todd," in which she played Adolfo Pirelli, and most recently Off-Broadway's "Almost, Maine."
Among younger performers who made it from Rochester to Broadway are Clay Thomson, who started as a competitive gymnast and ended up in the hit musicals "Newsies" and "Matilda"; the versatile Jessica Stone, who has been featured in plays ("Butley," "The Odd Couple") and musical revivals ("Grease," "How to Succeed...,". "Anything Goes") and also directed her husband, Christopher Fitzgerald, in a Williamstown Theater Festival production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Tom Deckman, a 1996 McQuaid graduate, performed in several JCC Summerstage productions before landing on Broadway in "Spamalot," and was also in Downstairs Cabaret's "City Lights" and "Take Me Home." Another "Spamalot" veteran, Steve Rosen, also appeared in "The Farnsworth Invention" and "Peter and the Starcatcher." And it should be noted that many of these performers' resumes mention roles in TV's greatest gifts to New York actors: "Law & Order" and "The Good Wife."
Did we neglect to mention a formerly local performer who has gone on to success in theater or film and television? Add their names to the comments section of this article at rochestercitynewspaper.com.