1st black ac­tor to play Val­jean on Broad­way dies

The China Post - - ARTS - BY MARK KENNEDY AND MICHAEL BAL­SAMO

Kyle Jean- Bap­tiste, the first AfricanAmer­i­can and youngest per­son to ever play the role of Jean Val­jean in “Les Mis­er­ables” on Broad­way has died af­ter fall­ing from a fire es­cape, ac­cord­ing to a show spokesman. He was 21.

Jean- Bap­tiste died Fri­day night fol­low­ing the show’s evening per­for­mance at the Im­pe­rial Theatre, said rep­re­sen­ta­tive Marc Thi­bodeau, who called it a “tragic ac­ci­dent.”

“The en­tire ‘Les Mis­er­ables’ fam­ily is shocked and dev­as­tated by the sud­den and tragic loss of Kyle, a re­mark­able young tal­ent and tremen­dous per­son who made magic — and history — in his Broad­way de­but. We send our deep­est con­do­lences to his fam­ily and ask that you re­spect their pri­vacy in this unimag­in­ably dif­fi­cult time,” a state­ment from the pro­duc­tion reads.

The ac­tor was an ensem­ble mem­ber of the com­pany and an un­der­study for Val­jean, go­ing on­stage as the ex­con­vict in a history- mak­ing ap­pear­ance July 23. His last per­for­mance in the role was Thurs­day.

The Broad­way com­mu­nity took to Twit­ter on Satur­day to mourn the loss of a young tal­ent.

“Shocked and sad­dened to have lost one of Broad­way’s youngest trea­sures,” tweeted Tony Award- nom­i­nee Joshua Henry. For­mer “Glee” star Matthew Mor­ri­son, star­ring in “Find­ing Nev­er­land,” called him “such a pure voice. Heart­break­ing.” Patina Miller, a Tony win­ner for “Pip­pin,” said: “My heart goes out to all who knew and loved this in­cred­i­bly tal­ented young man.”

A spokes­woman for the New York Po­lice Depart­ment said in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve Jean- Bap­tiste’s death was ac­ci­den­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, Jean- Bap­tiste was sit­ting on a fourth- floor fire es­cape of an apart­ment in the Bed­fordS­tuyvesant neigh­bor­hood of Brook­lyn with a 23- year- old woman Fri­day night when he stood up, slipped and then fell back­ward to the ground.

The city’s med­i­cal ex­am­iner will de­ter­mine his of­fi­cial cause of death, po­lice said. A spokes­woman for the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment late Satur­day.

Jean-Bap­tiste was born in New York and grad­u­ated from Bald­win Wal­lace Univer­sity. The 183- cen­time­ter- tall tenor had re­cently landed two mu­si­cal roles at Play­house Square in Cleve­land — in “Mur­der Bal­lad” and “Love Story.” He also had played En­jol­ras last year in a pro­duc­tion of “Les Mis­er­ables” at the Idaho Shake­speare Fes­ti­val.

Af­ter mak­ing stage history as the first black Val­jean, he told Play­bill: “I did not im­me­di­ately think of it as mak­ing history. This was my dream since I was a lit­tle boy. This in­cred­i­ble team of cre­atives pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity to play a part I have dreamed of play­ing since I was in­tro­duced to theater, and I am for­ever grate­ful. I felt a huge amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity to do right by them and to honor this iconic ma­te­rial.”

In one of his last tweets, sent Tues­day, Jean-Bap­tiste showed grat­i­tude for his friends and fans: “I thank ev­ery­one who sup­ported me and still does. I will never for­get this ex­pe­ri­ence. On­wards and up­wards,” he wrote. “Noth­ing but love.”

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