Many in the local tight-knit theater community are devastated by the sudden death this week of ChentÃ© Cervantes. He was best known to Fresno-area audiences for playing Seaweed Stubbs in the 2009 and 2012 Good Company Players productions of “Hairspray” and the Scarecrow in 2009′s “The Wiz” for GCP.
Cervantes, 32, lived in Merced. He was found dead in his home on Tuesday, according to a report in the Merced Sun-Star. The cause of death so far is inconclusive.
News about ChentÃ© started spreading Tuesday evening on Facebook, with shocked friends publicly grieving about the loss of someone so young and talented.
He was heavily involved with Merced’s local theater scene, where he was a teacher, choreographer, actor and director. Robert Hypes, artistic director at Playhouse Merced, wrote in a Facebook post:
He was a person that would light up every room he was in with his laugh and smile. He was a constant reminder that Merced could be better than what newspapers all across the country were saying about our town. Instantly, recognizable whenever he stopped by local restaurants and stores, his zeal for life was contagious and left all of us feeling better about ourselves.
At the time of his death, ChentÃ© had been preparing as choreographer and actor for the Aug. 31 opening of Playhouse Merced’s “9 to 5.”
Friends and family are collecting donations for funeral expenses through an online donation page.
People are also encouraged to swing by the Good Company Players business office (1105 N. Wishon Ave.) to help in the compiling of a memory book to be presented when the memorial services are finalized. Markers, glue sticks, construction paper and scissors will be provided. Bring photos, poems and anything you want added to the scrapbook.
I never had the chance to get to know ChentÃ© offstage. But in the times I saw him perform, I was always impressed with his buoyant onstage personality and graceful dancing. In my review of the latest “Hairspray,” I wrote that his “fluid moves on stage are terrific,” and I noted that the detention-hall scene — in which he played a major role — was one of the show’s highlights. In my review of the first GCP “Hairspray,” I wrote that “Cervantes dances and sings with a fresh, fine vigor.”
But I think my first memory of him stands out the most: as the incredibly limber Scarecrow” in “The Wiz,” his floppy enthusiasm (and amazing flexibililty) creating all sorts of endearing comic moments on the stage. Some actors are able to just sort of crackle kinetically in terms of relating to an audience. It’s as if he made you feel a little more limber yourself just getting caught up in his engaging portrayal. What I remember is just how crucial ChentÃ© was in conveying the sense of “The Wiz” movin’ on down that road.
His loss is tragic, and I offer my deepest condolences to his friends and family.
There already has been a lot of online sharing about ChentÃ©. But if you feel so moved, feel free to email me photos and memories of him, which I’ll post below. I’ll add my own with this memorable image from “The Wiz.”
Dominic Grijalva shares two images. The first is of him and ChentÃ© in the 2012 production of “Hairspray”:
The second is an image that Grijalva posted on his Facebook page, where he writes: “Taking my grief and making something of it. In ChentÃ© I saw life, color, beauty, confidence and most of all — inspiration. This photo represents what he was to me.” It will be used for the cover of the scrapbook mentioned above.
James Bonstein writes and shares some images:
Thank you for the wonderful article about Chente. He was such a vital part of the preforming arts fabric in Merced, in particular, Playhouse Merced. He taught my daughter to tap dance and was one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. He will be missed dearly.
Dave Filipczak, the stage manager for both GCP productions of “Hairspray,” shares:
I have these two photos for you to add. The first one is from our last production, in the dressing room, and the other is from the 2009 production in the rehearsal hall with the other cast member we lost from “Hairspray,” Steve Pepper. Seaweed and Wilbur are both dancing in heaven now … what a hell of a show!
Elena Carter writes and shares two photos:
Thank you so much for that wonderful article you wrote about ChentÃ©. He was the reason I started acting. We did The Wiz together in Livingston years ago and 9 to 5 was going to be the first show we’d acted in together (he directed and choreographed most shows I was in) since that time. He was the kind of person that when he said he believed in you, he made sure you knew he really did.