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LES MISERABLES - BROADWAY 2014
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Broadway Community Urges League to Dim Lights in Honor of Kyle Jean-Baptiste

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Early yesterday, LES MISERABLES cast member Kyle Jean-Baptiste tragically died from injuries suffered during an accident at his mother's home. Last month, Jean-Baptiste became both the youngest and the first African American actor to play the role of Jean Valjean on Broadway. News of his death spread across the internet quickly, with many members of the Broadway community paying tribute to this history-making performer. Quickly, "Kyle Jean-Baptiste" became a trending topic on Twitter around the world.

Soon after the news broke, many of Jean-Baptiste's fans and colleagues began using the Twitter hashtag #Dim4Kyle, in an effort to encourage the Broadway League to dim theater lights in his honor. As he/she did to promote the diming of Broadway's lights for Joan Rivers, online personality Actor Friend was one of the first to champion the cause.

Though he had only been an official member of the Broadway community for two months, his history making performance has made many passionate about remembering Jean-Baptiste with an honor normally reserved for Broadway "legends."

"With #Dim4Joan, we were dealing with much different circumstances: a well-known celebrity who was loved by the Broadway community and had been denied the honor, so we used social media to push for that to be changed." Actor Friend told BroadwayWorld, "With #Dim4Kyle, I feel we are making a preemptive statement to the Broadway League. Judging by how quickly Kyle Jean-Baptiste became a national trending topic, it is clear that this loss has struck a nerve far beyond the smaller community who knew him."

The Broadway League had originally declined to dim Broadway's lights in honor of Rivers, but, after public pressure, reversed its decision. Before the reversal, Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said, "Under our criteria people need to have been very active recently in the theater, or else be synonymous with Broadway - people who made their careers here, or kept it up."

Broadway historian and producer Jennifer Tepper tells BroadwayWorld that she believes that Jean-Baptiste qualifies for the honor. "As the first black actor and the youngest actor to ever play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on Broadway, Kyle inspired an entire generation of Broadway to recognize that we can do anything on these streets, regardless of race, age, or any other factor," said Tepper. "Our Broadway streets should dim their lights for Kyle, out of respect for the history he made here, in his very short time with us."

So far in 2015, the Broadway League has dimmed theater lights four times for Broadway agent Samuel "Biff" Liff, actor and director Roger Rees, actor Theodore Bikel, and director and actor Gene Saks.

Andrew Shade, the founder and Editorial Director of BroadwayBlack.com, a website that highlights African American theatre artists, told BroadwayWorld that Jean-Baptiste's unique place in Broadway history warrants the recognition. "We believe the Broadway League should #Dim4Kyle to recognize (Jean-Baptiste's) contribution and acknowledge this devastating loss to the theatre community," Shade said. "His undeniable talent will surely be missed by all those who enjoy the theatre."

Despite primarily being a member of LES MISERABLES' ensemble, over 20,000 Twitter users have expressed their feelings over the loss of Jean-Baptiste. Mo Brady and Nikka Graff Lanzarone of The Ensemblist, a podcast and website that celebrates Broadway ensemble performers, believe this support demonstrates the impact that Jean-Baptiste had on the community in just a few months in New York.

"It speaks multitudes of Kyle that, in a short time, he had a strong influence on so many theatre artists and theatre lovers," Brady and Lanzarone said in a joint statement to BroadwayWorld. "We are all lucky to be part of a loving community that celebrates the talent and passion that Kyle embodied. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the family he has at the Imperial."

Likely due to this tragedy occurring over the weekend, the Broadway League has not yet returned BroadwayWorld's request for comment. We will keep you updated on the efforts to Dim4Kyle, and all other aspects of this devastating story, as more information becomes available.

An earlier version of this article did not include Roger Rees amongst the Broadway figures honored by a dimming of theater lights.


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