Producer Cameron Mackintosh joins friends and colleagues of Kyle Jean-Baptiste in raising $130,000-plus for a memorial scholarship
BEREA, Ohio – On Aug. 29, after learning that their friend and classmate, Broadway phenom Kyle Jean-Baptiste, had died in an accidental fall from a Brooklyn, New York fire escape, the 10 young artists he’d graduated with just months before reached out to Baldwin Wallace University, asking how they could launch a scholarship in his name.
At the same time, the Mackintosh Foundation, the London-based philanthropic group created by legendary producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, contacted the school in Berea with “the same idea beautiful idea,” say BW officials – to establish an enduring legacy to honor the rising star.
By Aug. 30, the alums of BW’s music theater program had started to collect money on a site called gonfundme.com, hoping to eventually raise $25,000 to get the scholarship going.
They reached their goal in a single day. Donations kept coming in through a week filled with tears and public tributes, including the dimming of marquee lights at theaters in New York City, where Jean-Baptiste made his Broadway debut in “Les Misérables,” and in Cleveland, where the accomplished tenor with the megawatt smile regularly performed.
Today, thanks to the alumni-led, crowd-funding campaign and what BW officials are calling an “extraordinary” gift from the Mackintosh Foundation, The Kyle Jean-Baptiste ’15 Music Theatre Scholarship at BW has grown to nearly $135,000.
“I want nothing more than someone walking around that campus with this honor,” tweeted BW alum Chris McCarrell, currently starring as Marius in the popular revival of “Les Miz.”
Mackintosh, producer of some of the world’s longest-running musicals, including “Les Misérables,” met Jean-Baptiste when he attended the 21-year-old actor’s history-making turn as the first African American actor to play Jean Valjean on Broadway in July. Jean-Baptiste was also the youngest actor to take on the iconic role.
(Among the donations flowing into the fund is a symbolic one of $246.01 – a reference to the number Valjean famously wears while imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread – from “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who performed a tune from “Les Miz” with Jean-Baptiste for fans of both shows in August.)
“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,” Mackintosh said in a statement released earlier this week.
“His spirit was infinite and his voice from God – we are all so sad not to have spent more time with him, for he truly was a rare talent and a special person. Our loss is heaven’s gain and our prayers are with his family and friends.”
Jean-Baptiste will be laid to rest Friday following a funeral for family and friends in his native New York. Among the mourners will be BW’s Victoria Bussert, head of the music theater program where Jean-Baptiste received his training, music theatre chair Scott Plate, music director David Pepin and Susan Van Vorst, dean of the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music.
Also in attendance will be the 2015 music theater grads, all living in and around Manhattan now, more brothers and sisters, they say, than friends.
Within half an hour of learning that Jean-Bapiste was gone, they found each other, coming together at a classmate’s apartment like magnets dawn by the forces of love and grief.
Missing from the gathering was Brandyn Day, stationed in Long Island for the summer to star in the musical “Saturday Night Fever” at Gateway Playhouse.
“You never saw Brandyn without Kyle or Kyle without Brandyn,” said BW grad Hannah-Jo Weisberg. “Kyle was a second son to Brandyn’s parents and another brother to Brandyn’s sister. They were two pieces of a whole. It’s hard to put in words how close those two were.”
Weisberg and the others knew what they had to do. They hopped a train and made the hour-and-a-half commute to Bellport to be with Day.
“We got to Gateway Playhouse just as Brandyn was finishing his first show,” said Weisberg. “He was going to [call off] but felt that Kyle would want him to go on.”
Before he took the stage for his second performance that night, Day gave a speech dedicating the show to Jean-Baptiste.
“We didn’t even question it; we all needed to be together. We just held each other for hours. Laughed and cried,” said Weisberg. “My class is a family. Kyle was more than a classmate – he was our brother.”
When that family gathers at Jean-Baptiste’s funeral on Friday, they will say their goodbyes in the best way they know how.
In their senior year, Jean-Baptiste and his class performed “Elegies,” a series of songs written by William Finn to honor different friends of his who had died, said Bussert.
“We’re doing the final two numbers of the piece, ‘Looking Up’ and ‘Saying Our Goodbyes.’
“Somehow, we will get through this.”
The Kyle Jean-Baptiste ’15 Music Theatre Scholarship has been established at his alma mater, Baldwin Wallace University, to carry forward Kyle’s legacy and benefit music theater students.
To make a gift in memory of Kyle, please make your check payable to Baldwin Wallace University, note “Kyle Jean-Baptiste MT Scholarship” on the memo line and send to Baldwin Wallace University, c/o Advancement Services, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, OH 44017.
To make an electronic gift, go to b-wcommunity.net/give and in the designation dropdown, select Kyle Jean-Baptiste, and follow the prompts. For more information, call .
(reposted from Cleveland)