Written by Scott Keister
When it comes to theater, there wasn’t much Curtis Jerome couldn’t do. He thought of himself as a dancer, but he was also a director, choreographer, set designer, builder and painter, costumer who both designed and created costumes, actor, singer, and even a playwright. Jerome did all of these things with imagination, consummate skill and an immense passion for the craft. He directed musicals at the Maverick Theater over the past five years; large scale, complicated musicals like Chicago, Rent, The Producers, Spamalot, Legally Blonde, and Les Miserables. He was a shrewd judge of talent, casting people in roles they weren’t necessarily comfortable with until he drew out of them talents they didn’t know they possessed. He made better everyone he worked with. It’s a sad, tragic loss for the local OC theater community that Curtis was killed this week in a car accident. It’s a loss that has touched an incredible number of lives. The outpouring of love and respect for Curtis on Facebook has been overwhelming. What better tribute to Curtis than the words of those he worked with in the theater community. Here are some comments posted about Curtis: his talents, his humor, his compassion, his intelligence, and how he made us all better performers.
“One of the hardest working people in theater. I would constantly wonder….what are you doing HERE? Why aren’t you busy in Hollywood and New York winning Emmys and Tonys?”
“Curtis was an amazing renaissance man. He could do anything… He was my mentor as a costumer and I wouldn’t be the costumer I am today without him.”
“Curtis was a wonderful person to know, professionally and privately. He inspired things in me I didn’t know were there. And he challenged you in a different way every single show. He is someone that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
“Curtis had such a talent for multi-tasking a show. He would be sewing costumes, assembling props, directing the performers and telling me his set ideas all at the same time, and the show always turned out great.”
“I loved being in rehearsal with Curtis. He had a great instinct for knowing when to focus and when you could joke around. His direction was clear, but he gave performers room to make it their own. He created a strong sense of team because it was clear that everything we did was to best serve the show.”
“He took his pride from making others excel, he saw the best in everyone and showed them how to bring it out… he made people better, and as a result he made the world and all he met better.”
“I will miss my witty, kind, giving, talented friend who was always up for an adventure and provided so much light to all the people he encountered. I watched him instill confidence in his performers, and drive them to be better, always improving, never settling for good enough.”
“I just received news of the passing of a very dear friend…a very talented man…a director, choreographer, set designer, costume designer…there was nothing this wonderful, handsome man couldn’t do.”
“I’m so profoundly sad at the loss of my friend. Curtis believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. His passing makes this world a little colder, a little less magical, and a lot less musical.”
“I’ve just received news that one of my best and dearest friends of 26 years, the awesome and brilliant Curtis Jerome has left the earth and is now with the angels for the ages. Curtis will surly put a smile on their faces with his electric smile and witty sense of humor, and will likely try to redesign their robes and choreograph some new moves at heavens gates to spice things up.”
“I met Curtis Jerome in The Snow Queen, where he designed some of the most amazing and beautiful costumes I’ve ever seen. He was funny and sweet, insanely talented, and a wonderful man who will be dearly missed.”
“Many years ago, Curtis Jerome and I had closed a show and he hosted the cast party at his home. At some point in the evening he received a round of applause from all the cast and crew and got very embarrassed. Of course this meant that we followed him around applauding him until he hid in his room. He actually sneaked out his window to avoid us. Ever since then, I always applauded Curtis whenever I saw him. I would like to offer one final round of applause for my old friend. He always deserved it.”
For myself, I’d like to contribute my own experience of Curtis. I’m not a fan of musicals, but being a part of the Maverick I saw every show Curtis directed there, and he made me a believer. It wasn’t so much the shows themselves, but his imaginative staging and impressive casting, the humor he regularly found, and always the wonderful singing. So, when Cannibal: The Musical came around a few years back, being a huge fan of Trey Parker’s slapdash and morbidly funny movie, I had to audition. Curtis took a chance and cast me. Not only did he cast me, but in Curtis’ clever stage adaptation from the film, he actually wrote a significant role for me as the Narrator, also casting me as the Indian Chief. He had me singing and dancing (albeit poorly), but he trusted me to do it. I got to know Curtis working on that show and was constantly flabbergasted at the sheer volume of sweat and tears he poured into it, often working 24 hours a day on sets and costumes, as well as playing piano accompaniment for rehearsals every night. He even cast himself in the show, specifically for one hilarious ballet sequence than no one else could have pulled off. There were a number of us in that show who were new to performing musical theater and we can all thank Curtis for believing in us.
I last saw Curtis last Friday night for Les Miserables at the Maverick, as I happened to be bartending that night. Curtis had to step in for a cast member who was struck with tonsillitis. Before the show, Curtis was learning his own choreography to fit himself into a major number, which he ultimately pulled off with aplomb. After the show, he was as chagrined as any of us would have been in those circumstances, a typically humble moment for Curtis. He was afraid he was going to let down the whole cast. Of course, he did not. My last words to him as I shook his hand to congratulate him were, “Great job.” I wish it could have been more, but in truth, Curtis always did a great job.
A web site has been established for a Curtis Jerome Memorial, courtesy of the Maverick Theater. His family has requested that anyone who would like to contribute, please go to this link: