TAMPA — As if Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. isn't full of enough glitter and glamor, co-director Scott Daniel's birthday made the set even sweeter.
Tiaras, cupcakes and wrapped presents lined the front of the Ferguson Hall stage at the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Running off a sugar high, the cast in grades 5 to 8 and the crew rehearsed in the larger hall, while their set was being constructed in the TECO Theater for opening night.
Among them, stood one very confident, very humble, Brandon 13-year-old: Alexa Lowrey.
"When she came in, she knew all of her lines and all her songs. She came to the table with who she thought Millie was," Daniel said of Alexa's audition.
It was also a risk she took that set her apart.
"Well, I really wanted Millie," Alexa said. "I knew about this show since April and I decided to sing a song from the show, even though most directors say don't do that unless you really want that part."
Unsure, Alexa belted out, Gimme, Gimme. When she was done, she let out a big sigh of relief.
"Okay, I did it."
Like Millie, Alexa is bold, but she can be more reserved than her flapper character, meaning the young actor must go against her nature.
"It's not hard, but to develop this kind of character, because she is very lively and stuff, but she can be timid and to herself, but that's very rare so you have to capture that emotion so people actually see the change," she said.
"I really go over the lines and think about what they mean, not just what they are saying. I get into depth, even if its just someone saying, 'Hey, you have to react,' and I think that's the hardest part of acting. As long as you got it, you're good to go."
Alexa has been at the Patel Conservatory since third grade. Since then, she has acted in the ensemble and landed leading roles.
"Everything here, I just love. I love how everyone teaches and how everyone is so nice."
Mastering the leading the role in A Little Princess last spring washed away her stage fright. Now, she acts a mentor to the younger students.
"Some of the younger kids, I can see sometimes it's their first show, and they really want to help or are trying to get in and it's cool to see maybe I was like that when I was younger," the redhead said of the Millie cast.
Though the cast may be young, Daniel and co-director Lisa Vorreiter said they have been really focused, even during the romantic moments.
"They have handled it really well, even better than some high schoolers," Vorreiter said.
"Not just the actors doing the scene, but the actors watching as well. Usually there's a lot of giggle, giggle, that sort of thing but it was very all right, we are blocking that, they did it, no one made any extra noise," Daniel agreed.
Though musical theater may have been in Alexa's blood — her mom is a music teacher and her dad is a bassist at Disney World — the starlet once dreamed of being a brain surgeon.
But, with her parents' influence, she soon fell in love with music, practicing all the time and singing in the car. Now, it has become her passion.
She never did lose her caring side though. For her birthday this year, instead of presents, she asked peers to donate to an animal shelter.
She was surprised, however, with tickets to see One Republic.
"It's like one of the only pop bands I liked, so I was so excited," she said with a toothy smile. "A lot of bands are just Auto-Tune and that bothers me."
For someone who can sing opera and Broadway before even graduating middle school, it's easy to see why.
Contact Arielle Waldman at firstname.lastname@example.org.