CORTLANDT, N.Y. -- The journey from acting in high school plays to landing a part in one of the hottest plays on Broadway is a long and uncertain one, says former Cortlandt Manor resident Anthony Lee Medina.
But it’s well worth the effort if that path leads you back home once in a while where you can inspire and encourage others the way you were when you were starting out.
The 28-year-old actor recently visited theater students at Walter Panas High School, his alma mater, and at Copper Beech Middle School and Lakeland High School .in the Lakeland Central School District.
Medina, who will make his Broadway debut next month as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton in “Hamilton,” spent four hours answering questions about his career, discussing theater and talking about his journey.
“I always wanted to come back to my high school and talk,” Medina said, adding that he never expected the response to be so “amazing.”
“I’m very overwhelmed,” the actor said.
When one student asked him what it felt to be like on Broadway, Medina answered, with a grin: “I don’t know; I’m not there yet.”
Walter Panas Principal Keith Yi, the one who had invited Medina to come for a visit, said he was very impressed with the way he showed his “appreciation” for the education he received and how “thankful” he was.
“I think it (the visit) was inspiring for him as well,” Yi said.
Medina was all smiles when he chatted with teacher Annette Vaccaro, who had been his choir director at Walter Panas.
Vaccaro, who seemed equally thrilled, said Medina was “always responsible.”
“He always did what he said he was going to do. He was there 100 percent. He learned about the good, the bad and the ugly (of show business).”
Medina “took what he learned and ran with it,” Vaccaro said, adding: “That’s all you can ask for as an educator.”
Medina had fond memories as well, recalling that Vaccaro always came in “with a smile and a song.”
She was, he added, “the basis of my knowledge of musical theater.”
Medina also recalled Dr. James Filippelli, who was the director of Panas Players, the school’s theater group.
Filippelli was so “passionate, so loudly passionate half the time (about the program)” that he “instilled confidence in everyone involved,” Medina said.
A member of the Class of 2007, the Yonkers native also mentioned Erin Boyle and Cynthia Wilson of the school’s WISE program. It was through this program that Medina got the chance to participate in the Westchester Dinner Theater in Elmsford.
While performing as Ren McCormack in the school’s version of “Footloose,” his first lead, Medina was also playing another role in the same play at the Elmsford theater.
(Medina went on to play Otto in the first national tour of “Spring Awakening,” Usnavi in “In The Heights” at Theater Under the Stars and Young Sal in “The Capeman” in The Public Theater.)
Medina was listed in Paw Prints, his high school yearbook, as “Most Likely to be Famous,” but, he wisely and modestly said, he didn’t take it as a guarantee.
“You never know what’s going to happen, who’s going to be famous, or who is going to do what,” he told students.
He advised them not to compare themselves to others and to travel their own path.
“At the end of the day, lead with kindness,” Medina said.