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Top of Utahns contribute to ensemble in Pioneer Theatre's 'Les Mis'

May 2, 2013


May 02--"Les Miserables" made a big splash when it was released as a major motion picture last year, but it was the live theatrical experience of the revolutionary musical that originally won over the hearts of people around the world.

Audiences have another chance to see for themselves as Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Les Miserables" opens Friday, May 3, at Pioneer Memorial Theatre in Salt Lake City.

"One person can make a difference and can affect the world around him," said Centerville resident J. Michael Bailey, who is understudying the role of Jean Valjean. "Ultimately, the show asks whether you want to be a person who affects the world in a positive or a negative manner."

The 34-member cast is led by Joe Cassidy, who has played the role of the convict-turned-hero on Broadway.

Bailey, who grew up in Clinton, said he is learning from Cassidy and the creative team mounting the musical. The show is directed by former PTC artistic director Charles Morey, with current PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg doing the musical staging. Morey retired last year from PTC after 28 years leading the theater company.

Bailey knows a little something about the show; he played Valjean for six months last summer in the Utah Shakespeare Festival's production in Cedar City.

Although he knows the score and libretto by heart, he said the PTC production utilizes the revolving stage, which makes the staging entirely different from the Shakespeare Festival's production.

The original production of "Les Mis" is famous for its revolving stage, and Bailey is excited to be in a production similar to the original vision of the show. With hundreds of performances under his belt, Bailey shows no signs of growing weary of "Les Miserables."

"I could do this role for the rest of my life," he said.

Fans of the show

Bailey isn't the only one in the cast with previous experience in "Les Mis," based on Victor Hugo's classic novel of revolution and redemption.

Husband and wife Daniel Simons and Ginger Bess, of Ogden, appeared in PTC's premiere of the musical in 2007. That production shattered box office records at the theater.

"It is just one of the best-written musicals of all time," Simons said.

In addition to appearing in several PTC shows, Simons and Bess have made a name for themselves in Utah producing and starring in edgy Dark Horse Company Theatre productions, a company they founded.

Bess said her love of theater is directly linked to "Les Miserables," a story about a prisoner who turns his life over to God and in doing so changes the lives of those around him.

" 'Les Mis' is one of my favorite musicals of all time," said Bess, who is playing numerous parts in the ensemble cast. "I saw it when I was young and it made me know what I wanted to do when I grew up."

Though the 2012 film performed well at the box office and won an Academy Award for Anne Hathaway, it did draw criticism for a few of the actors' vocal performances.

"I can guarantee the voices in our cast are way better than the ones in the movie," Bess said.

The ensemble

"Les Mis" has been moving audiences to tears since its premiere on Broadway in 1988, and it is still doing so 25 years later.

The ensemble numbers provide some of the most spectacular and moving moments of the show, and this ensemble is working hard to deliver.

The ensemble includes some other performers with Top of Utah connections, including Lindsea Gardside, Justin Ivie and Dustin Bolt. Another is South Ogden native Jeffrey Scott Stevens, who is making a homecoming to be in the show.

"I am loving it because you get to go from being beggars in the street and in the mud to the very end of the show where you are guests at the wedding," Stevens said. "You are the poshest of the posh in refined silks and lines."

Stevens, who has numerous theater credits to his name, has been based out of Manhattan since 2009. He will appear as a principal dancer on an upcoming episode of the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire." He also made a brief appearance on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart in a comical segment in which he helped herald the entrance of guest Bill O'Reilly.

Stevens, who graduated from Bonneville High School and Brigham Young University, has appeared in several other PTC productions.

"It's the first time I've done 'Les Mis,' " Stevens said. "Although I've done it probably a hundred times in my bedroom ... I knew the score from top to bottom, pretty much."

Leading the cast

Stevens said it has been an eye-opening experience to work with Morey and Azenberg, who have developed a unique working relationship.

"When they're working in tandem in rehearsals, I feel like I am getting a major education and rich theatrical experience from two consummate professionals," Stevens said.

Watching PTC's former and current artist director collaborate on the phenomenon that is "Les Miserables" also comes with its funny moments.

"Charles will say something like, 'I hope I did a good a job so Karen will let me keep my job as guest director,' " Stevens said.

But at the end of the day, Stevens and his castmates know it's about giving and sharing with the audience a dynamic theatrical experience that will entertain them, move them, inspire them and perhaps prompt them to join the revolution and work for a brighter future for mankind.

"It's about the human instinct to fight for what you believe in, and be willing to die for what you believe in," Stevens said. "It's that powerful."


(c)2013 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah)

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