9 Questions With the History-Making, Youngest and First African-American Jean Valjean — "This Was My Dream"

News   9 Questions With the History-Making, Youngest and First African-American Jean Valjean — "This Was My Dream"
 
Kyle Jean-Baptiste made history July 23 when he went on as Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables at just 21 years old. We ask him about making history, what advice he was given and what's next! 

Jean-Baptiste is the youngest actor and first African-American to have performed the role on Broadway, although there have been others who have played it in the national tour and other productions. He was cast in the Broadway revival following his graduation from Baldwin Wallace University. 

When he's not going on for Jean Valjean, the role that he understudies, Jean-Baptiste plays Constable and Courfeyrac.

Kyle Jean-Baptiste
Kyle Jean-Baptiste Laura Marie Duncan Photography

How did it feel to make your debut as Jean Valjean, knowing that you were making history?
Kyle Jean-Baptiste:
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 theatre, and I am forever grateful. I felt a huge amount of responsibility to do right by them and to honor this iconic material.

Tell us about singing "Bring Him Home." You were asked to sing this for you audition, yes? What was it like to be singing it on Broadway? Also, you're friends/around the same age as your Marius, Chris McCarrell, so was that moment surreal?
KJ: Yes, I had to sing it a couple times for the audition. This song is so iconic, and everyone knows it well. I went into my first performance as Valjean very nervous to sing it, but the audience received it well.

Chris McCarrell is an awesome guy and amazingly talented. I couldn't believe I was performing with a guy I went to school with on Broadway!

Same goes for scenes with Javert — what was it like to face off with someone who is at least 20 years older than you?
KJ: It was exhilarating! To have the opportunity to perform this role opposite [Earl Carpenter] someone with such experience and talent was such a learning experience. He treated me as an equal on that stage. It was so fun to face off with someone for whom I have so much respect.

What did it feel like when you got the call that you booked your first Broadway show so shortly after graduating college?
KJ: I got the call from my agent on the phone and yelled like a child. I couldn't believe it. I felt like my hard work had paid off. I was, and am, so grateful.

Did Ramin Karimloo give you any words of wisdom before your first performance as Jean Valjean?
KJ: I was nervous about being too young, but Ramin helped me through and said to be in the moment and not work too hard to play old or to "perform" the role. He said the costumes and makeup will tell the story of me aging. He's an incredible guy and [an] incredible talent.

You've said that Les Miz/Jean Valjean is a "dream." When did you first encounter the show?
KJ: I encountered this show during my senior year of high school after I performed in my first musical. I listened to the album repeatedly for a solid week and then said to my mom, "I'm going to be Jean Valjean." Haha!

How has the transition been going from college to Broadway? Is this a whirlwind experience? What has been the response from your peers?
KJ: I did not expect the immediate success. Everything happened so fast. I am fortunate to have my alma mater, classmates (BWMT15), teachers and friends and family support me. They are all thrilled for me. So many of my fellow Baldwin Wallace graduates were in the audience cheering me on for my first performance as Valjean. It means the world to have their support.

Since this was a dream role for you — and you didn't think you'd have a stab at it until much later in life — what other roles would you like to take on?
KJ: Awwww, man, so many roles! I would love to play Billy Bigelow [in Carousel], John in Miss Saigon, Coalhouse Walker [in Ragtime], too many to name. I'm also interested in great roles in plays. I want to continue to break more barriers by challenging myself, while bringing my passion and my style to the table.

What's up next for you after Les Miz? What other projects do you have your eye on?
KJ: I have a lot of exciting things coming up! Keep your eyes on Playbill for updates!

(Playbill.com features manager Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

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