TAMPA — Traces of his accent are gone.
"You look adorable," Luis David Colón tells a girl dressed as a white mouse wiggling floppy ears at him and holding up a tail.
They are rehearsing backstage at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts where he will play the prince in Cinderella. The role makes the 18-year-old popular with younger students in the summer program at the Patel Conservatory Youth Theater. One girl stops to show him her wiggly loose tooth.
Colón has worked hard to be here. Four years ago, he spoke no English, but he wanted to pursue a dream. He was 14 when he came here with his grandparents from Puerto Rico, leaving behind his mother and younger brother and sister.
But Colón's sentences come easier now. He speaks slowly, enunciating each syllable: I'm sure your godmother will be okay if you are a little late.
He was about 7 when he watched a video of himself at age 3 dancing in a talent show while other contestants played off him.
Center stage. He knew that would be his role.
He looks like his father, who also was a dancer, but was killed five days before Colón was born, he said.
His grandparents, he said, "look at me as if I were my dad."
He's the oldest actor in the Cinderella, his 25th production, including performances at the center and Alonso High School, where he graduated this year.
"You look very handsome," said the show's director, Lisa Vorreiter, who was Colón's drama teacher at Alonso.
He thanks her, although his prince cloaks resemble couch material, he says.
He considers it fate that he met Vorreiter. She has been a drama teacher in Hillsborough schools for 24 years. Many of her students are working actors. She tells them: "Talent will get you your first job. Your work ethic will keep you working."
Colón, she said, is "incredibly motivated."
He must lose the accent to make it as a professional actor on Broadway, Vorreiter told him. She worked with him, and even helped cover his costs in April to go to New York City where he auditioned at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He got accepted and, in three months, he'll start working toward a bachelor's degree in musical theater. For now, he has a job as a teacher's assistant at Patel's youth theater.
Back in San Juan, Puerto Rico, his mother had enrolled him in trombone lessons, he said. She didn't want him to dance or sing. That was for girls, she told him, but he would sneak out to dance anyway. She came to see him graduate in June.
His dream now is to star in the Hispanic-oriented Broadway show In the Heights. Ultimately, he wants to direct, choreograph and perform in his own Broadway show.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.