Members of the theater community who knew and loved the young Broadway star killed in a fall during the weekend mourned him in song Monday at Central Park's Bethesda Terrace.
Nearly 100 fellow actors and friends of Kyle Jean-Baptiste gripped fresh-cut flowers and stood holding hands around Bethesda Fountain, one of his favorite spots in New York City.
"Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night," the group sang, taking a line from "Les Misérables," the iconic musical that Jean-Baptiste was starring in at the time of his death Saturday. "It is a music of the people, who are climbing to the light."
Jean-Baptiste, 21, fell from a fire escape at his mother's apartment in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Police have said his death was accidental.
The tenor was the first African-American and youngest actor to play Jean Valjean in "Les Miz." His last performance was Aug. 27. The Imperial Theatre, where the musical is staged, will dim its lights in tribute to Jean-Baptiste after Tuesday's performance.
Friends cried and embraced but also laughed at happy memories, standing around smiling photos of Jean-Baptiste. College roommate Sam Wolf, 21, of Harlem, urged those at the gathering to celebrate his "tremendous, tremendous, extraordinarily beautiful life."
His best friend, Brandyn Day, 22, of lower Manhattan, said Jean-Baptiste, as a college student, believed he would end up on Broadway.
"He said it every day. 'Dude, I'm going to be on Broadway,' " said Day, also an actor. "And he followed 'Playbill' like it was his job."
Jean-Baptiste, who performed in "Les Miz" in Idaho and elsewhere, got the call he'd been cast in the Broadway production a day after graduating from the theater program this spring at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, Day said.
"When he did something, he did it in the biggest possible way," Day said. "And everyone who knew Kyle loved him. . . . He will never be forgotten."
A man who said he was a friend of Jean-Baptiste's family but declined to give his name, recorded a video message from the actor's friends to his father, Serge Baptiste.
"We send our best, we send our love. All the light in the world to you," a friend in the group told the actor's father via the recording.
Jean-Baptiste's colleagues are raising money for a scholarship in his name at his alma mater and said they had raised $25,000 by the time the memorial service began.
"It's amazing how this one man without even knowing it beat all the odds and changed the world," Wolf said of Jean-Baptiste's career trajectory.
"Kyle did everything he could to help people. Everybody. No matter if they were his best friend or someone he hardly knew, he'd go out of his way," said college friend, Mickey Ryan, 22, of Harlem. "We knew he was destined for huge things, but we just didn't know when."
Of Jean-Baptiste's role as the lead of "Les Miz" on Broadway, Ryan said: "It was fortunate that it happened while he had time."