Playing dedicated young teacher Marilyn Sudor on the David E. Kelley Fox drama "Boston Public" introduced beautiful African-American actress Sharon Leal to a wide audience, but she was already familiar to many thanks to her two-and-a-half-year (1996-98) stint on the CBS soap "Guiding Light," a regular role on the 1998-99 UPN drama "Legacy" and extensive stage work. Born in Tucson, Arizona and raised in Fresno, California, Leal began her acting training on the West Coast but headed east to New York City to jump-start her career. Landing a role on "Guiding Light" as the likable Dahlia Crede offered the actress a great opportunity to hone her craft, and the notoriously rough working week daytime performers put in was good training for Broadway, where the actress would land parts in "Miss Saigon" and "Rent." As the understudy for the lead role of Mimi in the latter, Leal was often called upon to strut her stuff and showcase her more-than-capable singing voice. Starring as Mimi in the 1999 San Francisco leg of the touring company of "Rent," she was able to really make the character her own, and many fans of the cult-inspiring play have marked her portrayal as among the show's best.