Two homegrown actors are not only dreaming the dream, they are living it as members of Utah Shakespeare Festival's 2012 company -- and one of them is taking center stage in an iconic role.
J. Michael Bailey, 38, is playing Jean Valjean in the festival's production of the musical sensation "Les Miserables," which opens June 30 in Cedar City.
"It doesn't come without a lot of hard work, but I am completely ecstatic to be down here," said Bailey during a recent interview before rushing off to another busy day of rehearsals. "It's probably the most exciting time of my life when it comes to the theater."
The festival's production of "Les Miserables" runs through Oct. 20, overlapping its summer and fall seasons, which also include productions of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," "Mary Stuart," "Titus Andronicus," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Scapin," "Hamlet" and "Stones in His Pockets."
Bailey is joined by a cast of talented actors -- including Fruit Heights native Kyle Olsen, who is playing Courfeyrac in "Les Miserables," a member of the mob/ensemble in "To Kill a Mockingbird," and Bernardo and Reynaldo in "Hamlet."
Both actors are trying to keep up with a rigourous rehearsal schedule, which often goes late into the night. Olsen answered some questions via Facebook earlier this week after finishing another rehearsal.
"I've always wanted to be a part of 'Les Miserables' and I'm fortunate to be a part of it here at Utah Shakespeare with some amazing and talented friends," Olsen said in the interview.
The festival began its previews this week with the opening performances starting next week. Olsen said he feels extremely lucky and proud to be a part of it, standing on stage, surrounded by extraordinarily talented people who share his love and passion for live theater.
"Although it's hectic now as we begin previews, it's all too easy to breathe in and smile knowing that you're living the dream," he said.
Prisoner No. 24601
Although Bailey will also be appearing in the ensemble of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Hamlet," Jean Valjean will obviously be his primary focus at the festival.
By the end of the run, he will have spent more than six months digging into the role of the selfish prisoner -- branded No. 24601 -- turned selfless hero in Victor's Hugo's classic story of love, human suffering, revolution and redemption.
That's not bad for a self-described "country boy" who grew up playing sports and riding horses in Clinton. Bailey was cast as Valjean following a national search by the festival.
"He's a great guy and a wonderful young man and I am so happy for him and so excited that he is getting this opportunity," said R. Scott Phillips, executive director of the festival. "We auditioned in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Seattle and everywhere in between, and we come home and we find a young man from Utah to play the role."
Bailey's real-life role as a husband and father, Phillips said, is helping the actor add depth to his portrayal of Valjean, who takes on the role of father for the child Cosette after her mother dies.
"I think that being a father is helping him (Bailey) with this performance because he understands the love of a child and the loss of things," Phillips said.
Bailey recalls his reaction was twofold when he learned he had landed the part. He was awed and thrilled to get a shot at a show he has adored since he was 19 and first saw a touring production of the musical. And then he was "a little terrified" at the prospect of taking on such a beloved character in the epic story.
"The first part was 'Yay, Les Miz!' and the second part was 'Oh no, 'Les Miz!' " Bailey said, followed up by a rich, baritone chuckle.
Bailey studied musical theater at Weber State University and has more than 20 years of experience acting and singing all over the state, including "Sweeney Todd" at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City and as the Cowardly Lion in Grand Theatre's recent production of "The Wizard of Oz."(His wife, Mary Anderson Bailey, played the Wicked Witch of the West in that play.)
Since being cast, Bailey, his wife and children have temporarily moved from their home in North Salt Lake to Cedar City, where he has been preparing for the role of his lifetime. A few years back, Ogden audiences got a sneak peak at what was to come when Bailey sang Valjean's soaring ballad "Bring Him Home" at the Broadway-style Valentine's concerts at Weber State University.
Much has been written about Jean Valjean and what motivates him -- but at the end the day, Bailey sees Valjean as not complex, but rather a man driven by some rather simple motivations. Because of one act of kindness by a stranger, the character makes a stunning transformation from a selfish, lonely existence to a selfless, loving one.
"Once he makes that transformation, everything he does throughout his life is for someone else," Bailey said. "I think what makes him the hero of the story is that it's not necessarily about him, but it's about what he finds and does for other people, and I think that's something we can all take a really good look at in our own lives."
Both Bailey and Olsen have performed at the festival before. Bailey first met the younger actor when Olsen was 7 years old. Olsen has been performing on the stage from a young age; his grandparents built the former Pages Lane Theater in Centerville.
Like Bailey, Olsen studied musical theater at WSU and has appeared in several shows at the university. He recently starred in Hale Centre Theatre's productions of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "A Tale of Two Cities."
Juggling the demanding rehearsal schedule and keeping their voices, bodies and minds in shape is an even greater challenge when part of a repertory company.
"One of the biggest challenges so far is getting my voice in its best shape for every performance," Olsen said. " 'Les Miserables' is a huge show with a large amount of singing. You have to train your voice like any other muscle to prepare for this score ... it's taken weeks to strengthen it to where it needs to be."
When he is not singing on the mean streets of revolutionary France in "Les Miserables," Olsen's voice gets a rest in the nonmusical "Mockingbird," where he finds himself engrossed in the world of the segregated, Depression-era South.
"I'm once again blown away by the talent within this new cast," Olsen said of the play based on Harper Lee's famous novel. "Sometimes I catch myself falling out of a scene and being completely engrossed by the work that's being created on this stage. I'm soaking in as much as I can from these incredible actors and directors from differing parts of the country honing their skills on one single stage."
Olsen said one of the great aspects about the festival is that it is performed in repertory, which allows audiences to see different shows on different days throughout the summer and fall. It also gives the actors a chance to rest their voices.
That's probably a good thing in Bailey's case. The role of Valjean requires him to hit high B's and low A's. However, he said his voice appears to be keeping up with the challenge, and this is a part he could see himself performing eight times a week like many actors do on Broadway. The role is also physically demanding, Bailey noted, and he goes to the gym regularly (with baby in tow) to make sure his body stays in the best shape possible.
"Sleep is imperative," he added with another hearty laugh. "I find the more sleep I get, the better I feel."
Bailey gives tremendous credit to his wife, who has taken on additional responsibilities with their children to allow him the rest he needs to tackle the role.
He and Olsen said they are grateful to the great support and trust placed in them by the "festival folks."
"I am just absolutely thrilled to be down here," Bailey said. "It's the best place on the planet to work. These people are just wonderful and the shows this year are filled with great work and great performances. I encourage everybody to come on down and take a look at all the shows because they are wonderful pieces of art and there's something for everybody down here this year."
UTAH SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL SHOWS
The Utah Shakespeare Festival takes place during the summer and fall on the campus of Southern Utah University, 351 West Center St., Cedar City. In addition to the main productions listed below, there are several other festival events, including seminars, backstage tours and the popular Greenshow. Ticket prices per show range from $22-$73. Discounts and packages are available. Visit www.bard.org or call 800-752-9849 for more information and to purchase tickets.
Adams Shakespearean Theatre
“The Merry Wives of Windsor” (various times and days through Sept. 1). The William Shakespeare comedy features that lovable rogue, Falstaff, in a battle of wits with two of Windsor’s most clever women.
“Titus Andronicus” (various times and days through Sept. 1). “Titus” has been produced at the festival only one other time. This bloody tale of revenge is one of Shakespeare’s earliest tragedies and was one of his most popular plays during his lifetime.
“Mary Stuart” (various times and days through Sept. 1). The play by Friedrich Schiller is a compelling and highly charged Elizabethan drama. Loaded with political intrigue, it tells the dynamic story of Mary Queen of Scots and her conflicts with Elizabeth I, who reigned as queen during Shakespeare’s lifetime.
Randall L. Jones Theatre
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (various times and days, June 25-Sept. 1). This stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s famous novel examines themes of racial injustice and the loss of innocence. Lee’s enduring story — which won the Pulitzer Prize and remains on best-seller lists to this day — remains relevant with its cast of beloved characters, including Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus and others.
“Scapin” (various times and days, June 25-Sept. 1). A modern adaptation of Moliére’s hilarious comedy, the play is irreverent, pun-filled, thoroughly modern, and filled from top to bottom with comic madness.
“Les Miserables” (various times and days, June 30-Oct. 19). Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg is certain to be a crowd favorite at the festival. The timeless story of revolution and love has touched lives around the world for more than 25 years with its powerful story of Jean Valjean and his lifelong struggle for redemption.
“Hamlet” (various times and days, Sept. 21-Oct. 20). Arguably the greatest play in the English language, “Hamlet” comes to the indoor theater during the festival’s fall season for a new look at Shakespeare’s vision of murder, betrayal, family, love and loss.
“Stones in His Pocket” (various times and days, Sept. 21-Oct. 20). An audience favorite at the festival, the play features festival artistic directors David Ivers and Brian Vaughn playing a host of characters in this tragic, comic, and ultimately surprising, tale of two Everymen.