Theater Latté Da has a hotshot new artistic director.

Opera and theater director Justin Lucero has been tapped to become only the second artistic director of the company that has built a reputation for putting on moving, jewel-polished musicals.

Artistic director of Texas' El Paso Opera and a drama professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the 42-year-old Lucero will start his new job in October in the middle of the run of "Falsettos," which kicks off Latté Da's 26th season.

He succeeds the Minneapolis company's founding artistic director, Peter Rothstein, who guided the company for 25 years before being poached by Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla.

"I want to uphold the legacy that Peter and the company built," Lucero said. "I want to tell stories that are forgotten and sometimes erased through a medium that taps directly into people's hearts."

The first of three children born in El Paso to Shirley and Joe Lucero — she retired as a medical office manager and he's nearing retirement as a restaurant food salesman — Lucero came to performing arts late and with urgency.

A saxophonist, he earned a musician's scholarship to Texas Christian University, where he studied business and marketing, to be practical. After college, he taught German to kindergartners through eighth-graders, discovering that the skills he needed, including holding the attention of youngsters, all converged in theater. In 2009, he quit teaching and moved to London to pursue a master's of fine arts degree in directing at the University of Essex.

"I had gone to an audition with a friend who never showed up," he recalled. Instead, he himself auditioned as a novice for a role in a local dinner theater production of "Beauty and the Beast." To his shock, he was cast in a principal part. The only problem is that he did not even know theater terminology.

"I felt like I was catching up the whole time," Lucero said. "I was researching, reading and looking up terms like blocking. Because I embedded myself so deeply and quickly as a kind of educational intensive, the bug bit me big-time."

In addition to interpreting classics and fostering new work, Lucero plans to expand Latté Da's work with young people. He will be working closely with managing director Elisa Spencer-Kaplan.

Lucero is well-aligned with the company's mission even as he brings a fresh perspective, Spencer-Kaplan said. "He's thoughtful in his approach and has a fundamental kindness. And his creative brain is constantly turning. He brings a whole different level of experience that will help us grow in new ways."

Latté Da operates on a $4 million annual budget in the 248-seat Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis. Both the budget and theater may seem like constraints, but the fact that Lucero sees those features not as limitations but as opportunities to be creative, made him stand out in a field of strong candidates, Spencer-Kaplan said.

"He has a steel-trap mind, facile recall and a level of attention to detail, combined with big-picture thinking, that's very attractive," she said.