Jamie Ann Romero Exits Denver for the Bright Lights of New York City

Jamie Ann Romero Exits Denver for the Bright Lights of New York City
Jamie Ann Romero.

Every now and then, you realize you're watching a genuine star. Not just a very good, emotionally generous actor who makes intellectually interesting choices, but someone possessed of a quality that goes beyond that, a performer you'd happily watch in the dumbest and most boring show imaginable. This happened to me a couple of summers ago when I saw Jamie Ann Romero play the lead in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Romeo and Juliet. I'm pretty sure I used the word "radiant" in my review: Remembering her performance now, I seem to see her edged in flickering light.

For the last eight years, Denver audiences have watched Romero evolve from a talented ingenue into a full-fledged star. It's hard to describe her many gifts. She's a charmer, but not a shallow one. She can be adorably cute, but also dignified and serene. Her Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream last year managed to be both funny — sometimes ridiculously so — and also elegant and regal. We've seen her as Sylvia, the dog, in the play of the same name, humping a haughty woman's leg, barking furiously at a cat, flirting with a handsome hound and snuggling sweetly up to her master. She can do comedy, tragedy and anything in between, and she handles iambic pentameter with the same ease as she does contemporary speech. It doesn't hurt that her voice is warm and rich and that she's lovely to look at.

"The thing that makes Jamie so wonderful is that she can swing so easily between farce and tragedy," says Geoffrey Kent, who has both directed Romero and worked with her as an actor. "It's rare for an actor to be able to do both of those things so well. Her ability in a repertory company like the CSF to do Juliet and Michael Frayn's farcical Noises Off in the same season and knock them both out of the park — there's not a lot of people who can do that. I've always cast her because I know she can deliver the comedy of the moment and the pathos of the moment in the same scene — get a laugh and a moment later break your heart."

Now, having worked on most of the area's major stages, from the Denver Center Theatre Company to the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, the Lone Tree Arts Center to the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, Romero is about to try her luck on the starriest and most ambitious stages in the country: the ones in New York City.

Romero grew up in Denver and was "always a little ham around the family," she says. The first role she remembers taking on was in a play written by herself and fellow kindergartners in which she played a piece of bread and "fell in love with a polar bear." When she was around six, her mother took her to an audition in Boulder for Forrest Gump, which she remembers as a terrifying experience — but it got her imagination going. "My family is incredibly supportive of my career," she says. "They've come to see every play I've ever been in. My grandmother has a list of all of them on her fridge."

At Chatfield High, she encountered drama teacher Scott Ogle. "He's one of the primary reasons I continued doing theater," Romero says. "He empowered us to make our own choices and take ownership of a play. And he taught us that it was fun."

Ogle has high praise for his former student: "Jamie was always dedicated to her craft," he says. "She would always be so focused and disciplined, even in high school...She would master skill after skill, including difficult British accent work as Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest and stage combat technique in Robin Hood. Then, just when I thought she couldn't do anything else to surprise me, she got a musical lead and stunned all of us with her singing as Lola in Damn Yankees.

"I could not possibly be more proud of her," he concludes. "She is humble, hard-working and everything I want every one of my students to strive to achieve.... I was blessed to have her as a student, and I know she made me a better teacher every bit as much as I helped her."

In her teens, Romero worked at a summer camp run by actor-director Robert Kramer. She went on to study theater at the highly respected program of the University of Northern Colorado. Philip Sneed, now executive director of the Arvada Center and then artistic director for the CSF, noticed her when he taught a weeklong class there, and she later received an internship with CSF, appearing during her first year in Around the World in Eighty Days and filling a small role in All's Well That Ends Well. Since then she has managed to work almost continually year-round, with the occasional coffee-shop stint to see her through. "I've been very fortunate; the Denver community is so welcoming," she says. "You enter an audition room and it's full of friendly, familiar faces. I was able to be part of CSF every summer — Phil created a core company and offered me a spot."

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