First black ‘Les Mis’ star on Broadway dies after fall

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First black ‘Les Mis’ star on Broadway dies after fall

NEW YORK - Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the first African-American and the youngest person to ever play the role of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables’’ 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, who called it a “tragic accident.’’

“The entire ‘Les Miserables’ 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. Former “Glee’’ star Matthew Morrison, starring in “Finding Neverland,’’ called him “such a pure voice. Heartbreaking.’’

A spokeswoman for the New York Police Department said investigators believe Jean-Baptiste’s death was accidental.

According to police, Jean-Baptiste was sitting on a fourth-floor fire escape of an apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn with a 23-year-old woman Friday night when he stood up, slipped and then fell backward to the ground.

The city’s medical examiner will determine his official cause of death, police said. A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment late Saturday.

Jean-Baptiste was born in New York and graduated from Baldwin Wallace University. The 187-centimeter (6-foot-2) tenor had recently landed two musical roles at Playhouse Square in Cleveland - in “Murder Ballad’’ and “Love Story.’’

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 theater, and I am forever grateful.”

The current “Les Miserables’’ on Broadway is the second revival of the hit show. It debuted in 1987 with Colm Wilkinson, and the latest reimagined version landed on Broadway last year. British opera star Alfie Boe is due to take over Valjean.

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