Young Fountain Valley star bound for Broadway

Elizabeth Romero's parents enrolled her in piano, singing and ballet lessons when she was small.

By nudging her toward these activities, they hoped to coax their daughter out of the shell of her shyness. Today, it's clear that the parental decision has helped Elizabeth gain a foothold in finding the buds of her self-esteem.

The Fountain Valley resident, who just turned 18, is on the verge of graduating, not only as a standout student from Huntington Beach High School, but as one of the brightest stars to come out the campus' Academy of the Performing Arts (APA), according to school officials.

Nowadays, whenever she steps onto a stage and smiles that smile of hers, "You can tell that she is the happiest person at that moment," said Tony Romero, her father.

If you were to watch the video of Romero singing solo April 28 in front of an audience of 3,000 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, she showed no lingering traces of her early childhood terror of facing strangers. In a red dress on a settee at the L.A. Music Center stage, she sang "Gimme, Gimme" from the musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

"It was one of the most incredible moments of my life," she said.

That performance landed her the first-place award in the nonclassical voice category at the 24th annual Music Center Spotlight Awards. She was one of two Surf City-area girls to win top honors there.

The other, Tyler Donatelli, 15, who dances at the Southland Ballet Academy in Fountain Valley, where Romero trained when she was younger, won first-place in the ballet category.

Then on the following day, at the John Raitt Awards for Youth — known as the JRAYs, a regional musical theater competition among area high schools — at the Fullerton Civic Light Opera, Romero was named Best Actress for her role in the APA's production of "Damn Yankees," which also took home the Best Musical Award for director Tim Nelson, her mentor at APA, and choreographer Diane Makas, who also runs the academy.

Romero's JRAYs honor clinched her a spot in the National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York, aka the Jimmys, which will be handed out June 25.

Romero's upcoming trip to the Great White Way will mark the second time in as many years that she will appear in the Jimmys. In 2011, she went after being named Best Actress at a regional competition staged by Musical Theatre West in Long Beach.

Thirty girls and 30 boys from high schools nationwide will be competing in New York.

Romero has been singing since she was in the third grade, but was mostly trained as a classical singer who sang in local choirs. She has been taking classes at the academy since her freshman year, when she attended Fountain Valley High, but became a full-time student at Huntington Beach High after transferring over in her sophomore year.

She said she has a voice that ranges from soprano to alto belt. And, although her parents took her to see Broadway shows at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, she first stepped on the musical theater stage as an eighth-grader, when she took part in a production of "Don't Say No to the USO" presented through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Huntington Valley.

Romero's parents may have planted the seed for her love of musical theater — in which Romero can combine her singing, dancing and piano skills —but they credit Nelson and Makas for recognizing their older daughter's talent and nurturing it.

In the fall, Romero will enter Northwestern University, where she plans to take classes in both theater and mathematics — her academic love.

"She's very scholarly as well as musical," said her mother, Julie Romero, noting Elizabeth's 4.53 grade-point average. "We feel that there's a direct correlation between her math skills and her musicality."

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