Karl Hugh
J. Michael Bailey, right, seen in the Utah Shakespeare Festival's 2010 world premiere of the new musical "Great Expectations." Bailey has been cast as Jean Valjean in the festival's 2012 production of "Les Miserables."

SALT LAKE CITY — Quite the lineup of actors showed an interest in auditioning when the Utah Shakespeare Festival added "Les Miserables" to its lineup for this summer.

With some theatrical exaggeration, festival artistic director David Ivers said the pool of actors interested in playing the leading role of Jean Valjean included "every high school student through senior citizen in 12 countries."

Ivers and Brian Vaughn, the festival's other artistic director, said about 150 people asked to audition for the part of Valjean when the two were on the road auditioning actors from New York to Los Angeles. About 20 of those were "really viable," Ivers said.

At the end of the day, Utahn J. Michael Bailey grabbed their attention. He had played the festival twice in recent years, and had submitted an audition tape right after he learned "Les Miserables" had been added to the summer lineup.

Bailey, Ivers, Vaughn and director Brad Carroll met in Las Vegas for a marathon audition. "We offered him a role on the spot," Ivers said. "We like to say we brought him home."

Bailey has understudied the role and can't think of a bigger part in a more epic show in musical theater. "It's larger than life, but it's about taking life into perspective, and what's important."

In the festival setting, auditioning someone for Valjean means much more than casting for musical theater. Bailey — almost all of the "Les Mis" cast for that matter — will also play "Hamlet" and other plays during the festival, which has added a lot of modern shows to complement its Shakespeare productions. So casting directors, during auditions, have to "see" an actor in many roles when casting.

"It's 'Les Mis' and 'Hamlet' — the greatest musical of all time and the greatest play of all time," Vaughn said. "It is truly repertory theater. The actors love it because they get to showcase a wide array of their talents."

The go-ahead to stage "Les Mis" was late in coming. The festival already had popular Broadway musical "The Drowsy Chaperone" on this summer's lineup when rights to produce "Les Mis" were offered after requests stretching back five years.

"We thought this was the perfect time to swap those shows out," Vaughn said. Casting a Utahn in the lead was a bonus," Ivers said, emphasizing the "Utah" in the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

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