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Musical theater has given us some lasting images, perhaps even iconic. You're probably able to identify the following scenarios:

A ragtag group marching in place, singing and waving a great big flag. "Les Miserables."

What about a group of seven children running around in clothing made from old drapes? "The Sound of Music."

Now, picture these scenes with the dramatic backdrop of the southern Utah red rocks — red cliffs, actually.

That's what awaits you at Tuacahn this year.

"We're just excited about the shows," said Scott Anderson, Tuacahn's artistic director, who excitedly jumps into talking about the musical he's directing, "Les Miserables."

"'Les Miz' is obviously the big news. They only granted eight professional rights on the show. Pioneer (Memorial Theatre) was the first. We are one of eight in the country," he said.

Chatting over the phone, Anderson commented on the quality of theater in Utah. "The fact that two of the eight regional contracts came to Utah really says something."

Tuacahn casts its shows mostly out of national auditions in Los Angeles and New York. "Our talent pool grows every year. The actors realize that they can perform to great crowds in Ivins, Utah — in the middle of the desert. But they can do quality theater and some of these contracts run six months. That'll pay for their insurance for a year for an Equity actor. All those things have helped us lure talent from bigger theaters."

Leading the story of redemption, morality and forgiveness is Timothy Warmen as Jean Valjean. With many Broadway credits on his resume, "The Who's Tommy," "Steel Pier," Side Show" and "Jekyll and Hyde," this classic role is one he's never done before.

"What's fun about Timothy — he has never played the role," said Anderson, who noted that many other productions simply recast actors who've done the role numerous times. "He's the perfect age now, and he's got such a unique approach to it; he's such an actor. When he sings 'Bring Him Home,' that's probably one of the best versions I've ever heard."

Warmen has another pair of big shoes to fill: Captain von Trapp in Tuacahn's other summer offering, "The Sound of Music."

A few years ago, America helped cast the new Broadway revival of "Grease" through a reality TV show. London did it first with "The Sound of Music," under the guidance of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Webber has carefully taken a few songs out of the movie, "I Have Confidence" and "Something Good," and put them into the stage production.

Anderson, who saw the production in London, said, "With the integration of the film and the book and lyrics — it might be one of the best things I've seen on stage."

In the slightly reworked version of the familiar show, Mindy Smoot Robbins will take on the role of the girl who climbs trees and scrapes her knees, Maria. Fans of Tuacahn will remember Robbins as Eliza Doolittle from last year's "My Fair Lady," and she was also in one of the national touring productions of "Les Miz."

But there are plenty of local folks taking the stage this summer, too.

"Normally we always cast some locals," Anderson said. "This year, because of the nature of "Les Miz," we had almost 1,000 people audition for 42 roles. What was amazing was the quality of the voices. We had people crawling out of the woodwork because they wanted to sing "Les Miz."

In conjunction with Tuacahn's Summer Theatre Institute, a summer school for high school students who auditioned and were invited down, they will also offer "High School Musical" in the indoor theater.

When asked about Tuacahn's flood, Anderson chuckled, explaining you'll see the red cliffs used here and there but the flood, "we're saving that for 'Big River' in the fall."

If you go ...

What: Les Miserables and The Sound of Music, Tuacahn Amphitheatre

Where: Ivins

When: Les Miz, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 18; The Sound of Music, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays through Aug.18

How much: $20-$56

Phone: 800-746-9882

Web: www.tuacahn.org


E-mail: ehansen@desnews.com