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: