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The secret's out about Thomas Jefferson High School powerhouse singer

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson High School junior Alyssa Gephart, left, and Scott Waitlevertch of Equitable Gas, external communications and governmental relations manager, stand on the stage of the Benedum Center on First Night where Alyssa performed as the winner of Equitable Gas’ annual First Night Sing-Off Competition. Submitted photo

The video that helped Alyssa Gephart win Equitable Gas' First Night Sing-Off competition was far from ideal.

It was taken during a recital, on an iPhone, from a distance and the Thomas Jefferson High School junior was just a blur in the background — hardly visible under the bright stage lights. Her powerful voice, though, captured the judge's attention through the black haze, organizers said.

Gephart, 17, beat out 41 other entries and won the competition, organized by Equitable Gas and the Pittsburgh Foundation. Her prize: two performances on stage at the Benedum Center during First Night, $500 in cash — or “college money,” as Alyssa called it — and $1,500 for the Thomas Jefferson High School theater department.

And that is what she is excited about the most, winning something for her school and the theater department that she has been a part of since her freshman year, said Alyssa, 17, of Pleasant Hills.

“That was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. They can use it for whatever they want it for. It feels good to give back to the school,” she said.

Alyssa always has enjoyed singing, dancing and everything about musical theater, she said.

At 5 years old, her mother, Lori, took her to see “Annie” at Heinz Hall. After the show, Alyssa decided that she wanted to begin performing, her father, Keith, said.

“I just remember my wife coming home and saying, ‘Have you ever heard Alyssa sing?'” Keith Gephart said.

Sure, he had heard Alyssa humming tunes around the house. But, this time he sat back and listened to her perform.

“I was just like, ‘Wow,'” he said. “That was the beginning.”

Alyssa began taking musical theater and acting classes at the Pittsburgh CLO Academy and soon she started getting parts in local productions. She got her first “college fund job” performing when she was 8 years old.

“For a long time, every time she auditioned, she got the part,” Gephart said.

Alyssa was the “Cratchit Child” in “A Musical Christmas Carol” from 2004 to 2009, Marta in “The Sound of Music” in 2005 and Susan in “White Christmas” in 2007, all put on by the Pittsburgh CLO. She also was Annie in “Annie” at the McKeesport Little Theater in 2006, “Little Girl” in Ragtime at Point Park University in 2006 and in the children's chorus for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for Pittsburgh Broadway Series in 2005.

Some of the parts meant months of rehearsals and breaks from school, Alyssa said.

“I'd literally leave school for three months and I'd come back and no one would know where I was until I got back and they announced it,” she said.

Still, many of Alyssa's teachers and classmates don't know about her lengthy resume – and she tries to keep it that way.

“I always try to be humble,” Alyssa said, noting that everyone now likely will find out about her hidden past.

In recent years, Alyssa's performing has been mostly confined to the Thomas Jefferson stage: where she has performed in each musical since her freshman year. She also has one of the lead roles in this year's show of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” as Milly Bradon.

Alyssa, though, has kept busy. She has an internship at WYEP radio and in 2009 and 2010 was the host of the McDonald's Kidzone for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Entering the First Night Sing-Off competition came as a last minute decision for Alyssa and her father, who serves as her performance “coach,” of sorts.

“She always teases that I'm a stage dad,” Keith Gephart said.

He does help Alyssa prepare for her auditions and performances.

“I turned musical theater into my sport,” Keith Gephart said.

For the competition, Alyssa had to record a new performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables.”

Thomas Jefferson teachers said they're proud of Alyssa for her accomplishments.

“She's extremely pleasant,” said Thomas Jefferson High School and Pleasant Hills Middle School director of choirs Julie Lucci. “She's just a very caring, outgoing, fun girl. She's great and easy to work with and an excellent singer and actor.”

“She always represents her school in the highest regard,” she said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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