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Henry McGee
Matthew Richards observes a musical theater performance workshop during the National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York City.

Aitana Alapa called the experience “unbelievable,” and Matthew Richards said “accepted” was how he felt about their trip to the bright lights of Broadway.

After Alapa won Best Actress and Richards won Best Actor in May at the 2014 Utah High School Musical Theater Awards, sponsored by Logan’s Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, the two students traveled to New York City in June to attend weeklong intensive workshops with nationally recognized stage performers and to compete at events sponsored by the National High School Musical Theater Awards.

“Never in my life did I ever think I would be going to New York City to participate in, first of all, a musical theater competition and, second, on a Broadway stage,” said Alapa, who was honored for her titular role in Woods Cross High School’s “Aida,” a production that also received the Best Musical Award in the Utah competition.

“My competitors and I had the incredible opportunity to work with Broadway professionals, rehearse like Broadway professionals and learn how to become a Broadway professional,” she said of her time in New York. “It’s definitely a life-changing and wonderful experience I will never forget.”

To explain his one-word description of the experience, Richards said, “I loved this experience most of all because I loved being around so many people who were just like me. I made so many great friends and could feel that they really supported me. Back home it can be very difficult being ‘the weird theater kid.’ But there everyone was very friendly and kind and really wanted to reach out to me.”

Richards was awarded for his lead performance as Percy Blakeney in Northridge High School's production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

When he competed in New York, Richards was a runner-up for Best Actor and received a $2,500 educational scholarship from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation.

Beyond their enjoyment of the unique theater workshops with Broadway veterans, the students said the trip was also a beneficial learning experience.

“I learned how important it is to be willing to put yourself out there and make your name known,” Alapa said. “Audition for many things and gain as much experience as you can because no one makes it to the top just by doing nothing."

Alapa also learned to avoid discouragement as she pursues a professional theater career.

“This business is such a tough one to get into because of the many talents that are out there,” she said. “But it’s all by chance and timing on what directors and casting agents are looking for, so you need to just keep going until it’s your time.”

Richards said the New York City experience inspired him “to go back as soon as possible. It was wonderful to feel like I actually had a shot at doing something that has always been my dream.”

And Richards was surprised at a similarity he found backstage at Broadway productions.

“It seems that, just like home, everyone is held together by gaffer tape and Super Glue,” he said.

'Unbelievable' theater experience for two Utah students

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Matthew Richards performs with other Best Actor finalists at the National High School Musical Awards in New York City. Richards was honored with the Best Actor award at the Utah High School Musical Theater Awards for his lead performance as Percy Blakeney in Northridge High School’s production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel.”

'Unbelievable' theater experience for two Utah students

In her role as Aida, Aitana Alapa performs with other cast members of Woods Cross High School’s “Aida" at the Utah High School Musical Theater Award event in Logan. Alapa was honored as Best Actress and the production received the Best Musical Award at the Utah competition. She then went on to compete at the national level.