NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The first African-American to ever play the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway in “Les Misérables” has died.
Kyle Jean-Baptiste, 21, died Friday night after falling off his mother’s fire escape in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn.READ MORE: Terence Blanchard Becomes First Black Composer At Metropolitan Opera On Historic Night At Lincoln Center
He was also the youngest person to play the part of Valjean. The cast of “Les Misérables” said they are shocked and devastated by the sudden and tragic loss, CBS2 reported.
Jean-Baptiste was an ensemble member of the company and an understudy for Valjean, going onstage as the ex-convict in a history-making appearance July 23.
“I closed my eyes last night and woke up with tears,” Baptiste’s sister Kelsey wrote on Instagram. “My best friend, my heart, my 1st reason for existence, my brother, passed this morning. He shook the world with his voice and broke barriers with a smile. He was a blessing to me, you, and many people in the world.”
“We have suffered an unimaginable loss today at the Imperial Theater,” the production of Les Miserables said in an Instagram post. “[Kyle Jean-Baptiste] was a wonderful, talented, sweet, hilarious gem of a person and we are devastated that he is gone.
“Kyle loved being a performer. He brought his passion and joy to this show every single day and [the show] will never be the same without him. We will carry him in our hearts on the barricade every night. We love you Kyle.”
Jean-Baptiste was set to appear later this year with Jennifer Hudson in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple,” his agent said.
Tributes to the star poured in on Twitter.
Jean-Baptiste was born in New York and graduated from Baldwin Wallace University. The 6-foot-2-inch 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 Misérables” 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 theatre, 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.”
The current “Les Misérables” on Broadway is the second revival of the hit show. It debuted in 1987 with Colm Wilkinson in the role of Valjean and lasted until 2003. A revival in 2006 lasted just a few years and the latest reimagined version landed on Broadway last year. In a few days, British opera star Alfie Boe is due to take over Valjean.MORE NEWS: R. Kelly Found Guilty Of All Counts In Sex Trafficking, Racketeering Trial
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