How CUNY Set the Stage For a Broadway Career

Danny Burstein, aka Luther Billis in "South Pacific."
It's 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Center Theater in Manhattan, three hours before the curtain rises for another sold- out performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific." Danny Burstein, the Tony nominated actor who plays Luther Billis, is in his dressing room surrounded by "South Pacific" mementos: a playbill from the original 1949 production, a limited edition plate from the movie and an album from the original cast.

The glamour of a hit Broadway play is a long way from the campus of Queens College, but that's where Burstein's thoughts often are.

"City University is in my blood," says Burstein, who graduated in 1986. "My dad teaches philosophy at Queens College. My mother went to Queens College and got her master's at Brooklyn. Both my brothers went to Queens College."

And Burstein isn't the only accomplished actor to have studied there: Jerry Seinfeld, Adrien Brody, John Favreau and Ray Romano have been undergraduates at Queens College.

Burstein even taught acting there for a semester. "I had a lovely time," he says, "but trying to juggle teaching and acting professionally just didn't work."

Since then, he has carved out an enviable life as a New York actor, landing roles in film, televison and on Broadway. He's been nominated for a Tony twice - for his performance as Aldolpho in "The Drowsy Chaperone" (2006) and two years ago as Billis.

Born in Mount Kisco, Burstein lived in the Bronx until the family relocated to Flushing, where his father, Harvey, got a job as a lecturer at Queens College in the SEEK program. The middle child of three, Burstein graduated from the High School of Performing Arts and after getting his BA, earned an MFA in acting at the University of California, San Diego. He's married to actress Rebecca Luker and has two sons.

In college, Burstein studied with professor Edward M. Greenberg, which turned out to be a turning point in his life. Greenberg had been the executive producer of the nation's largest outdoor theater, The Muny in St. Louis. He helped Burstein get his Equity Card and acting jobs in Muny musicals during the summer.

Burstein is proud of his degree from Queens and tries to make sure it's listed in his professional biography.

"It's a place where you can go and study with some of the best teachers in the world at an affordable price," says Burstein. "I'd be honored if my children went there."