I find myself at a loss right now. I have just learned of Kyle Jean-Baptiste’s passing, and it hits me harder than I would expect. The world will remember him as Broadway’s “first African-American Valjean.” As a side note, it is also mentioned that he is the youngest to play the role. After all, isn’t it a greater feat to play one of the most iconic theater roles, especially one in which you age into a dying old man, at just 21 years old, than what color of skin you happen to be born with? Either way, it’s quite a legacy to have when most people are just happy they can legally drink. Valjean ages 17 years in the show; that span is practically Kyle’s entire life. You see pictures of him with his gray hair and beard, and the world will never see him get to that point in his real life. He had a beautiful voice and he was a true talent, and it’s a shame that history-making one-liner reduces the full extent of his talent. I bought tickets for Ramin Karimloo’s last performance months ago. Then Kyle hit the scene and I was excited to see him as Courfeyrac and to see him perform in person without the history-making title slapped on him. Because at the end of the day, he was a talented performer who got to hit the theater’s biggest stage in one of the biggest smash musicals. And he happened to be black. He would have had a brilliant career, one where he hopefully wouldn’t be seen as “the black Valjean,” but a legitimate musical theater performer who could handle anything. And it’s a shame the world will never get to see what comes next for him.
For all the feels:
I usually forget that I have a father. Of course I have a father; I do not hail from an immaculate conception. It’s just that my father has been out of my life for so long that I often forget his existence. It’s not until something like Fun Home comes along that emotionally devastates me that the full magnitude of growing up without a father hits me.
Fun Home is, of course, brilliant. I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said already and is so deserving of all its award success. It’s unlike any other show I’ve seen before, mostly because it doesn’t seem like a show. To begin with, it’s definitely not your jazz hand razzle-dazzle musical, but a beautiful show that’s full of heart. Kudos to director, Sam Gold, for staging Fun Home in the round because the production never feels like a production. It felt like an honest, beautiful, heartbreaking story that happened to be a musical produced on a Broadway stage.
I have never cried so much in a theater before. And I never have been more aware of all the sniffles around me. I wonder if Beth Malone and Michael Cerveris take stock of everyone’s emotional devastation as they spin around during “Telephone Wire.” “Just one tissue out, oh, there’s another one. That woman now has a steady stream of tears instead of the single glistening tear at the start of the song.” This was the second show I saw this year where after the lights came up, my mom and I stayed in our seats to dry our tears and to get a handle on our emotions before making our way out of the theater (the first was Hamilton at the Public). By the time we felt emotionally secure to walk out and stand in the long line at the merchandise booth, most of the cast was out and chatting with each other. You always hear that Broadway shows are like a family, and you truly saw it with this cast. It made me insanely happy to see these people laughing and smiling together, looking ready to hang out and live their normal lives, completely unaware of how emotionally devastated they all left me.
Fun Home is definitely a winner. It’s an amazing thing that Broadway can have such diversity and have this tiny gem of a show become not just the critical darling of the season, but a real bona fide hit at the box office. And lastly, thank you to Alison Bechdel for sharing her family’s story.
Alex Sharp is absolutely brilliant in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (a show that is brilliant and dazzling in its own right) and completely deserving of the Tony Award. I wish he could stay in the show forever, so I’m sad he’s leaving. While I’m sure his replacement, Tyler Lea, will be amazing, can’t Steven Hoggett pull some strings and get Collin Kelly-Sordelet an audition? He was such a standout in The Last Ship and I just want to see him on Broadway again!