LAKEWOOD RANCH — From the day he was born, 10-year-old Stevie Lee Romero has been full of surprises.
The fourth-grader in Keli Georgas’ class at Willis Elementary made his world debut in dramatic fashion on Aug. 21, 2000. At just 28 weeks and weighing 2 pounds, 11 ounces, Stevie Lee’s hand stretched only from mother Belinda’s thumbail to her thumb joint.
But the preemie proved to be a fighter, and just five weeks after his birth, he was able to come home to be with his family in the Country Club of Lakewood Ranch.
“There were no complications,” Belinda says. “He just decided it was time.”
Ten years later, Stevie Lee again decided he was ready for another debut — this time on stage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre. In his first foray into community theater, Stevie Lee landed the lead role in the Players’ production of “Oliver!” The play opened last week and continues through Dec. 31.
“I was surprised,” Stevie Lee says of opening night. “Everything turned out really good. … And I didn’t forget any lines.
“It’s really fun,” he says of acting. “You get to be a billion different people. Oliver is an orphan in England.”
Although this is his first performance with the Players, Stevie Lee’s acting résumé stretches back further. He cut his acting teeth last year as a part of Willis’ third-grade play and spent last summer learning from Lakewood Ranch High School drama department chair Roxane Caravan as part of the Acting Up! summer camp. There, he performed “High School Musical 2” and met one of his role models, Lakewood graduate Dane LaFemina.
LaFemina introduced Stevie Lee to his vocal coach, Alan Corey, and also encouraged him to audition for “Oliver!”
Stevie Lee spent time perfecting his audition piece — “Little People” from “Les Miserables.” But on the morning of the audition Oct. 2, doubts began to creep into his mind.
“He came to me and said, ‘Mom, will you be disappointed if I don’t want to go?’” Belinda remembers. “I got him undressed and back into normal clothes and told him we’d just go to his brother’s (Ryan’s) game instead.
“If we were going to do this, I wanted it to be because he wanted to,” she says.
Eventually, Stevie Lee decided to head to the theater. Despite it being his first audition, he says he wasn’t nervous.
“I was getting over the flu and a sinus infection, so I was just trying to get the mucous out,” he says with a smile.
Although Stevie Lee says he would have been happy with a peripheral role, directors saw a star in him and cast him as the lead. And so far, audiences seem to agree: Stevie’s opening performance received rave reviews from critics. His infectious charisma, kindhearted nature and yes, those squeezable cheeks, make him a perfect Oliver.
And if you ask Stevie Lee, he’ll add one more attribute.
“Spunk,” he says with a grin. “I’m spunky like Oliver.”
Stevie Lee cites several actors, including Jackie Gleason, Will Ferrell, Kevin James and Eddie Murphy, among his favorites and says he would like to try a comedic role in the future.
However, Stevie Lee says his career aspirations fall more in line with his father, Dr. Steve Romero, a veterinarian.
“I want to be an anesthesiologist,” he says proudly.
Contact Michael Eng at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m., Sundays, through Dec. 31
WHERE: Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, 102 12th St. W.
TICKETS: $25 for adults; $11 for students
INFO: 748-5874 or www.manateeplayers.com