Jeff Lantos grew up in Johnstown, PA and majored in American history at Brown University. He was thinking of going to law school until he took a playwriting class in his senior year. This led Jeff to New York City, where he wrote for magazines and for the stage. After three years, he moved to Los Angeles and spent a year as a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute; after graduation, he wrote for American Film Magazine and Movieline Magazine.
After his marriage in 1985, he earned his teaching credential from California State University and began teaching elementary school in Los Angeles. Over the years, he’s taught first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades—always with a piano at the front of the room. In 1995, he had an epiphany: Why not integrate the American history his fifth graders were studying with musical theater? Twenty years before Lin Manuel Miranda wrote Hamilton, Jeff’s students were singing, dancing, and debating their way through the Constitutional Convention of 1787! This production was such a big hit that he was inspired to write two others; all three became an official part of the fifth-grade curriculum. In 2010, his students were invited to perform Water and Power at the Duke Theatre as part of the New York Festival of New American Musicals.
Jeff has also written songs for the NBC show Parenthood, consulted for the show Crashbox, served as a board member of the Los Angeles Festival of New American Musicals, and contributed to the Los Angeles Times editorial page and other local newspapers. He has received many awards and grants for his work in teaching and historical research, including the Insight Innovation Award, the Lori Petrick Award, the Gilder Lehrman Fellowship, and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He retired from full-time teaching in 2016 and continues to work part-time as a musical director—most recently playing the piano for his students over Zoom.
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