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Kyle Baran, a senior at Clarence High School, has been involved in theater for less than a decade, but has acquired a truly impressive resume over the course of his short career.

He got his start in acting when his mother spotted an advertisement in the newspaper for the Academy of Theatre Arts, a theatrical education facility run by Dina Slawson, located in the heart of Williamsville. Seeing as how young Kyle had already shown a passion for performing, the academy seemed like a good fit.

What began as simple after-school activity has turned into a passion for Kyle, as well as a part-time job, a group of friends he refers to as a "second family" and a promising future.

Kyle is one of the academy's original members, having started in fourth grade. He has witnessed the academy grow from a small one-room studio to a fully furnished facility that puts on multiple productions each year. At the academy, Kyle has held several lead roles in renowned musicals such as "West Side Story," "Aida" and "Once on This Island." His next role may be his biggest yet: portraying Jean Valjean, the protagonist of "Les Miserables."

Valjean is a notoriously difficult role, having several vocal solos that incorporate a very wide range of notes, as well as being a very deep character on a personal level. While asking a high school student to accurately portray a depressed parolee whose personal life is a mess may seem an unthinkable task, Kyle speaks of his role with remarkable placidity.

"It's dark. There's not too many light aspects about it," Kyel says calmly about the role of Valjean. "It's an intense show for high school kids to put on. We try the best we can to put ourselves in the situation. Even though we may not mentally be able to understand how these people feel, we try to show it in our body language."

The production of "Les Miserables," which opens at the Academy of Theatre Arts today, with nine performances through Dec. 19, was put together with remarkable brevity. Rehearsals began the first week of October, with the cast meeting just once a week initially. Rehearsal time increased as opening night grew closer. The production also stars Matt Moulin, a senior at Williamsville East High School, as the play's antagonist Javert, and Greg Slawson, a senior at Williamsville North High School, as Marius.

Given that the cast knows each other so well, the shows they work on are drastically improved by the chemistry between the performers. With each showing of the musical, the cast will be striving to improve from the previous one.

"There's always something that can be better. Each time you perform, you want to make the next one better than the one you just did," said Kyle.

With such a dedicated cast (Kyle describes the eight-hour rehearsals on weekends leading up to the show, as well as weeknight classes as "not too demanding"), this commitment to excellence will undoubtedly be visible over the nine shows.

The Academy of Theatre Arts has a very bright future. In 2011, the group will travel to New York City after being invited to do a workshop with Broadway theater professionals and perform "Gimme Shelter," an original musical written by Dina Slawson (the academy's director), which features the music of the Rolling Stones.

"To think back to the day where we were in a one-room studio with a few kids [when I was in] fourth grade, and now we're going to Broadway to work on a show that she wrote, I can't even comprehend it," said Kyle.

Kyle plans to study theater next year at Niagara University.

Alex Eaton is a junior at Clarence High School.

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"Les Miserables" will open at 7 tonight in the Academy of Theatre Arts, 5505 Main St., Williamsville. Peformances continue at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 and 19.

For more information or to reserve tickets, visit www.academyoftheatrearts.com or call 810-0551.