As the city and theater community grieved the loss of Kyle Jean-Baptiste, who died after falling from a fire escape at his mother’s apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant early Saturday morning, a campaign grew to have the Broadway lights dimmed in the talented tenor’s honor..
Baptiste, 21, the first African-American and youngest actor to play the role of Jean Valjean in the iconic Broadway musical, “Les Miserable,” moved up from understudy to begin playing the title role, Jean Valjean in July and had his final performance in the title role on Aug. 27. (He also played other roles in the show.)
Thousands of messages using the hashtag “#dim4kyle” poured through social media over the weekend urging The Broadway League to bestow the same honor on Jean-Baptiste that has been accorded other theatrical legends. Last year, The League had initially resisted dimming lights in memory of Joan Rivers, explaining the honor was typically accorded only those whose careers were synonymous with Broadway or for people extremely and recently active on the Great White Way. After being bombarded with requests to reverse its decision, The League relented and did so.
Jean-Baptiste apparently “stood up and fell backwards” while with a woman on a fourth-floor fire-escape in the wee hours of Saturday morning, said an NYPD spokesman. He was pronounced dead at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center. Late Sunday night the NYC Medical Examiner announced “the cause of death is blunt force injuries of torso. The manner of death is accident.”
A picture of the U.S. Tour of “Phantom of the Opera” was tweeted by @StormLineberger showing the entire costumed cast holding a “#Dim4Kyle” sign. The production “Hamilton,” also tweeted support. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who had done an impromptu street performance with Jean-Baptise earlier this month, retweeted a “Dim4Kyle” sentiment.
The Les Mis production “certainly supports the movement for dimming the lights in Kyle’s honor,” the show’s publicist, Marc Thibodeau, said in an email.
“The tragic loss of Kyle to our company, just as he was on the threshold of a brilliant career, is a numbing reminder of how precious life is. His spirit was infinite and his voice from God,” producer Cameron Mackintosh said in a statement.
A representative of The Broadway League said yesterday “it might be [Monday] ,” before more is known about the decision to dim the lights.
The League had dimmed the lights on Broadway four times to date this year.
“Our pain has no boundaries,” the singer’s mother, Sonia Jean-Baptiste said in a statement, noting that services for her son will be private.
Jean-Baptiste, reported to be joining the cast of “The Color Purple,” was a graduate of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and Baldwin Wallace University.
On Aug. 12, Jean-Baptiste erupted in gratitude on social media for the amazing heights his glorious voice and promising talents had taken him to in a famously difficult field, writing: “I love my life. I love my friends. I love my job. And I love my family. Pretty fortunate dude. #grateful#hardworkpaysoff#actor”