NEW YORK (AP) — Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the first African-American and youngest person to ever play the role of Jean Valjean in Les Misérables 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.
“The entire Les Misérables 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 ex-convict 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. Teal Wicks, starring in “Finding Neverland,” called him “a new friend and a shining star.”
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.”