NUTLEY, NJ - She's named after a famous star.
She loves to sing.
And she loves life, in general.
Welcome to Ava Minichini's world. The soon-to-be 15-year-old daughter of Kathy and Michael Minichini is a freshman at Nutley High School, where she excels in the classroom, as well as on the stage.
Named after the legendary Ava Gardner, Minichini and her twin sister, Liana, share a special bond, as they tackle the new challenges of high school. LIana is a standout basketball player for the Raiders. Both are Honor Roll students.
And before just about each varsity home girls basketball game, Ava sings the National Anthem to her sister's delight. (Liana is one minute older than Ava, a source of good-natured kidding between the two).
"My sister is my soul mate," said Ava, during a recent conversation at the family home. "I am so proud of what she is doing with the basketball team. Those girls are amazing. They have a great chemistry and that's why they're doing so well."
Ava was encouraged to sing the Anthem and took an immediate liking to it.
"I sang it at a Nutley 5K, and have really enjoyed doing it at the girls basketball games," she said. "It's not an easy song to sing, but I think I'm getting better at it."
Ava played basketball with her sister for a number of years, but decided that the theater was her passion. Ava saw her first Broadway play, "Dear Evan Hansen" at the Music Box Theater, in Midtown, Manhattan, last year.
"I just loved that show," said Ava with a big smile. "It's about a 16-year-old with some social anxiety, trying to find his place in high school. It was a wonderful show."
Ava has found the stage to be a place of creativity, as she pursues her dream. She gave a stirring rendition of the classic song 'Day By Day' as a seventh grader, at Good Sheppard Academy, in Nutley, during the show 'Godspell'.
"I was so excited when I finished that song, and the audience was great," said Ava, who in addition to singing, also performed concurrent sign language to the song.
The Good Sheppard Academy has put together some beautiful productions. Ava performed in a production of the Addams Family, playing the lead role of Morticia, last year.
"That was one of my favorite roles," she said. "I could really relate to Morticia."
During the play 'Shrek', Ava played 'Dragon' and sang the song 'Forever', where she was lowered onto the stage while breathing fire.
"It's amazing the work that Good Sheppard puts into those shows," said Kathy Minichini. "Ava really grew up performing in those shows."
Ava has singing lessons once a week, and praises her vocal coach, 'Chris', for teaching her so much. She's an Alto singer, who also enjoys opera. She'll appear in the Nutley High school play, 'Rock of Ages', from Feb. 28-March 1.
"It meant a lot to get a part in the play," said Ava. "It's different in high school, with new challenges. If I didn't get a part, I would have liked to do anything just to be around the play. I love the theater."
An avoid basketball fan, Ava was influenced by Kobe Bryant's energy and love for the game.
"Like so many, I was upset when Kobe died," she said. "He inspired me, not only as a basketball player, but as a dad."
She also loves to sing the National Anthem, at her sister's basketball games.
"I really liked the way Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga sang the Anthem," she said of past Super Bowl performances. "When I sing the Anthem, I try to do a better job than at a previous game. I'm always very critical of my own work. Singing in front of my sister, however, is very special to me. I know she's watching me, and that means a lot."
As Ava sings, Liana admires her sister's voice, while holding her hand over her heart.
"Knowing Liana is watching inspires me," she said.
When the Nutley High school play concludes, Ava's work in the theater will continue.
"I'll stay as busy as I can, going into the summer," she said. "This is what I really want to do."
Ava's faith is very important to her, and she credits her family for that inspiration.
"No question, my faith guides me," she said. "My parents raised us that way and it's an important part of my life."
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