LUTZ — Ryan Santello, 17, traded in his figure skates for cowboy boots to take on the role of Curley in the Patel Conservatory's presentation of Oklahoma!, which opened Thursday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
And his sister, Victoria Santello, 15, will join him as part of the dance ensemble.
Though they love theater now, the ice was the first stage for the Santello siblings, who live in Lutz. They were attending a birthday party at an ice rink 11 years ago when they discovered their hidden skating talent.
"We were just like, 'Wow,' we are really good at this,' " Ryan said with a wide smile.
Though they took ballet classes to improve their skating, it wasn't until Ryan was 14 and Victoria was 12 that they became interested in the world of drama. Orlando residents at the time, Ryan auditioned for a role in The Pirates of Penzance at a theater in downtown Clermont.
"I realized, I like this," he said of his experience.
Victoria also participated, working backstage.
"I watched him and was like, 'I want to do this,' " she recalls.
When the family moved to Tampa in 2011, their mother, Stacey Santello, did some research online and found that the Patel Conservatory was holding auditions for its summer production of Seussical the Musical. They immediately felt at home there.
"It's like a family environment. Everyone is so outgoing so you make friends easily," Victoria said. "There are some of your best friends here."
The Santellos were also impressed by the amount of experience everyone had, specifically the Oklahoma! cast.
"You get to work with so many experienced people . . . Sean Paris is amazing. He was in New York and on Broadway, and a casting director," Ryan said of the show's director.
Like the Santellos, Paris entered the theater world on a whim.
He was a student at the University of Florida when Melissa Hart, a Tony-nominated professor there, suggested he take her musical theater class.
"I didn't recognize my talent, but she did," Paris said. "She got me moving."
The pair met again in New York City when Hart happened to audition for a show Paris was casting.
Paris moved back to Tampa in 2012 to be closer to his family, and teaches at Blake High School, along with his work at the Patel Conservatory.
Paris is also working on a show for Blake High School and the upcoming Patel Conservatory performance of Hairspray. But it's Oklahoma! that is posing a new challenge.
"We have 55 to 60 kids on the stage, all at once, and they all have to be telling a story," he said.
Since Oklahoma! was produced in the 1940s and acts as a foundation for all other musicals, Paris added his own flair by making the villain and the dream ballet scene darker.
As for the lead role, Ryan was not on Paris' radar at first.
"(But) Ryan fit the picture, the kind of man I was looking for," Paris said. "I was looking for someone with a real legitimate voice, and he has that."
Ryan was surprised to get the lead.
"I came in open-minded, just auditioned and would have been happy with any role I was given," he said.
When Ryan came to callbacks, he gave it his all and was thrilled with the outcome.
"I think people that know him will be really surprised with his performance, and I think he'll be surprised too," Paris said, smiling.
Ryan has a come a long way since his first role as a pirate in The Pirates of Penzance. This show marks the most lines he has ever had. Luckily, he has his sister for support.
"You have someone to remember what you don't," he said of his counterpart.
The two spend a lot of time together, in chorus at Steinbrenner High School, practicing at the Patel Conservatory and skating on Saturday nights. At home, they practice for Oklahoma! by moving the couches out of their living room, or on their front lawn. Their passion for theater even moves them to sing down the school hallways, and at Publix.
"It helps our bond as siblings," Victoria said. "We never fight."
And as if their schedules aren't busy enough, Ryan, a junior, is also working on a video audition for the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.
"It's good to be busy," he said.