Three Valley students are returning to school after a July spent doing musical theater in New York City.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Leah Henthorne, Tempe resident Jake Bonar and Chandler resident Lois Zozobrado sang and acted under the guidance of Broadway directors at iTheatrics’ Broadway Academy.

“It was just really an eye-opener for me,” said Bonar, who started the weeklong program on July 14.

The teenagers were among the five nominated for the prestigious camp by Mary-Jo Okawa, founder of Copperstar Repertory Company.

They submitted video auditions for the Broadway workshop. Musical Theatre International uses the workshop to fine-tune junior spinoffs for its mainstream shows.

Henthorne and Bonar were selected for the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization’s junior version of “The King and I,” and Zozobrado was selected for Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.”

Zozobrado flew to New York a week before her friends and played one of the natives in Neverland.

She told Henthorne and Bonar some details about the experience, but Bonar said he went into the camp “sort of clueless.” He and Henthorne didn’t even know their roles.

“I was cast in ‘The King and I,’ but I didn’t know which part,” Bonar said. “So when I went in on Monday, they had us sing a song, and they cast the part later that day.”

The directors cast him as the king’s son, Louis, and Henthorne as one of the king’s wives.

“I wasn’t expecting something huge,” said Henthorne, who said she expected a normal theater camp. “But it turned out to be so much bigger.”

In preparation for the performance, the directors led the students through a week of packed rehearsals. The show was a working test case for the writers of the script, who made constant additions, omissions and tweaks as the students rehearsed.

“Five minutes before we were about to perform, they had to cut a whole scene,” Henthorne said. “It was just dragging on too long.”

The exclusion was justified as the show went off without a hitch. Henthorne’s mother Katy said the musical gave her chills.

After the show, the directors and thespians received feedback from the audience, which included Rogers and Hammerstein members and an original cast member from “The King and I.”

For Henthorne, it was an honor to have worked with experienced directors and fellow actors and actresses from around the country: “I was so thankful that I was able to be part of this amazing cast,” she said

When not rehearsing or performing, the thespians explored the Big Apple. On one occasion, Bonar and Henthorne watched a Broadway performance of “Aladdin.”

After the show ended, the two students waited to meet the cast and were invited to go backstage. Meeting Aladdin’s actor was a highlight for Bonar, who played the same character in a Copperstar performance earlier this year.

Bonar first performed in “A Christmas Story” at the Phoenix Theatre in 2011 and has since acted with several different production companies, including Copperstar.

He and Henthorne acted together in Copperstar’s “Les Misérables” and “Oliver!” His portrayal of the Artful Dodger has earned him a National Youth Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the junior division.

He hopes to do much more theater in his future.

“I really would like to get a degree in musical theater at college, and I would love to be the star in a Broadway show,” he said.

Back in Arizona, Bonar enters eighth grade at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix. Zozobrado is a freshman at Perry High School and Henthorne is a freshman at Desert Vista, where she plans to perform in school plays.

Her trip to New York, she said, gave her a glimpse of what it takes to make it on the big stage.

“It has definitely made me think that Broadway takes a lot of work,” Henthorne said. “They worked us pretty hard, but it was so much fun. I think it would be really cool to be on Broadway. All the work pays off.”

• James Anderson is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.

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