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At Theatre Aspen, Happiness Is Les Miserables

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ASPEN, COLORADO--Aspen ain't Broadway, but Theatre Aspen is beginning to feel like it's in the same neighborhood as the big time, especially with the bar raised this summer by Les Miserables, a potent production that turns the small stage into an oversized advantage.

Even for an award-winning company like this, the sheer bigness of the story--on the big screen this past Christmas starring Hugh Jackman and Ann Hathaway--might seem too colossal to control within the confines of The Hurst Theatre. Size matters, as Theatre Aspen artistic director Paige Price knew when she took the plunge with Les Miz, but the payoff for the organization is outlandishly big. Theatre Aspen's production of Les Miserables is unflaggingly brilliant, with an ensemble cast so talented it might well blow the roof off the tent before the run is done August 17.

Directed by Mark Martino with musical direction by Eric Alsford, this version of Les Miz is full of star turns, including Mike Eldred as Jean Vajean, Aloysius Gigl as Javert, Beth Malone as Fantine, Chelsea Groen as Cosette, Daniel Berrryman as Marius, Andrea Ross as Eponine, and Matt Bailey as EnJolras. Playing the comic Thenardiers, Richard Vida and Nikki Boxer are hysterical, delivering levity to a story that could otherwise fall of its own blight. The art direction and lighting design by Paul Black were exemplary, transforming a microscopic stage into the stage for a revolution.

Attention must be paid in particular to Matt Bailey, not only for his singing in Les Miz, but also for his virtuoso performance in the one-man, one-act, many voices comedy, Fully Committed, through August 15, and directed by sitcom legend and Aspen resident Jay Sandrich. Bailey plays a restaurant reservation jockey in New York; he also manages to play the voice of every customer on the phone and character in the kitchen.

Theatre is driven by individual talent, of course, and you walk out of Theatre Aspen on a summer's night thinking: "Not only is Matt Bailey a great singer, but he's funny." That kind of talent and these kind of shows don't happen by accident. With Les Miserables literally waving the flag for Summer 2013, Theatre Aspen has dreamed a dream that has already come true.