Kyle Jean-Baptiste, a 21-year-old New York actor who made his Broadway starring debut July 23 in Les Miserables as the youngest — and Broadway’s first African-American =- Jean Valjean died August 21 night in a home accident, falling from the fourth-story fire escape of his mother’s Brooklyn apartment.
The accident occurred Friday night as Jean-Baptiste sat with a friend on the fire escape, then stood up, slipped and fell backwards. He’d performed his final turn in Les Miserables Thursday and planned to leave the show September 6 for a role in Broadway’s The Color Purple.
A statement released by the Cameron Mackintosh production Saturday reads: “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.”
Jean-Baptiste, usually playing the roles of Constable and Courfeyrac, was an understudy in the Valjean role when he was called on to take the stage last month. The night he went on as Valjean, he tweeted: “Today I go on as my dream role. No words. Guna remember this night.” Later, he added: “Thank you for all the love ! Last night was one of the best nights of my life. Thanks to all who came. C U at the barricade @LesMizBway.”
As a show of congratulations following Jean-Baptiste’s star performance, Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of Broadway’s Hamilton, tweeted the reworked Les Miz lyrics:
“RED:THE BLOOD OF ANGRY MEN
BLACK:OUR BWAY JEAN VALJEAN
RED:MAKE HISTORY AGAIN
BLACK:THE BARRICADE LIVES ON
On August 15 Miranda introduced the actor to the crowd gathered outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre in hopes of winning a $10 “Ham4Ham” ticket in the pre-show lottery. With Jean-Baptiste as Jean Valjean and Miranda as his nemesis Inspector Javert, they performed a word-and-note-perfect duet from Les Miserables.
In a Playbill interview after his performance as Valjean, Jean-Baptiste said, “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 theatre, and I am forever grateful. I felt a huge amount of responsibility to do right by them and to honor this iconic material.”
The recent graduate of Ohio’s Baldwin Wallace College described getting the news of his star turn: “I got the call from my agent on the phone and yelled like a child. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like my hard work had paid off. I was, and am, so grateful.” Asked what roles he’d like to play, Jean-Baptiste said, “Awwww, man, so many roles! I would love to play Billy Bigelow [in Carousel], John in Miss Saigon, Coalhouse Walker [in Ragtime], too many to name. I’m also interested in great roles in plays. I want to continue to break more barriers by challenging myself, while bringing my passion and my style to the table.”
Here’s a link to Jean-Baptiste’s Youtube page.