Last weekend, Curtis Jerome, the director of Les Miserables at the Maverick Theater in Fullerton, had to step into a key ensemble role after the original actor fell ill. By all accounts, he nailed it on very short study.
It's hard to fathom, but Jerome's presence will be felt even deeper during this weekend's closing shows, as the 50-year-old passed away Tuesday after injuries sustained in a car accident on Memorial Day. It is a tremendous personal loss to Jerome's family and friends, who opened up on Facebook after news of his death–as well as at least one affecting blog. And it's an enormous professional loss to the Maverick, as the company's wave of musical theater successes the past six years were in large part due to the incredible range of talents possessed by Jerome.
"The visual impact he made with working with large ensembles on a small stage was just amazing," Maverick founder Brian Newell says. "He could balance out the movement and the action so you could always follow what was going on. It was never too busy, it was always just right."
Jerome either directed, or worked closely with Newell, on some of the finest musicals to grace Orange County's smaller stages, from Reefer Madness and Spamalot to The Producers and Cannibal! The Musical!, the Trey Parker-written anti-musical that the producer of the New York show called the best version he'd ever seen next to his, Newell says.
And whether he was directing, choreographing, designing the costumes or all of it, each of the shows he worked on were "bursting at the seams with the sort of mad creativity Curtis was known for," longtime friend Ryan Young says. "The man could do anything. And beyond his talent, he was a kind and passionate man who gave so much of himself to help others create something wonderful. He was talented, he was kind, but beyond all else, he brought out the best in people. I will not forget him, as he was unforgettable."
Jerome, who graduated from Fountain Valley High School worked for years as the resident designer for the Orange County Children's Theatre, as well on an annual summer theater program at El Modena High School, where people like Young, and another friend, Eugene McDonald, first met him.
"Curtis was one of the most talented people I have ever known," McDonald says. "He was an outstanding dancer, pianist, choreographer, costumer, director and set designer. There really was nothing he could not do with amazing skill and artistry."
He's also championed by those who took big creative risks under his tutelage, such as Nick McGee, a ridiculously talented actor who had long harbored a secret desire to be in a big musical dance number. He got his wish with Jerome in The Producers.
"I had never been in a legitimate musical theater dance number in my life, but the fact that Curtis believed I could successfully learn and perform his choreography meant the world to me as a performer who had always secretly wanted to learn dance," McGee says. " I know many others who would echo this same sentiment, Curtis always welcomed those that were willing and eager to learn…I always admired Curtis for his unrelenting passion for his craft. He put his heart and soul into every production, and expected all his performers, novice or expert, to put just as much passion and hard work into his shows as he did and I believe that is why his work shined so brightly and was so successful."
Newell recalled that after Jerome stepped in to his own play last weekend he said afterward, "God, I can't believe I put my actors through all that. They must hate me."
Based on the outpouring of remembrances this week on Facebook, that is the last thing anyone thought of Curtis Jerome.